MANILA, Philippines—A “lack of leadership” and poor voyage planning led to the grounding of decommissioned USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, a Unesco world heritage site, in the Sulu Sea last January, the US Pacific Fleet chief said.
“USS Guardian leadership and watch teams failed to adhere to prudent, safe, and sound navigation principles which would have alerted them to approaching dangers with sufficient time to take mitigating action,” Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, wrote in a 160-page report.
Haney concluded that a “lack of leadership” led to the watch team’s disregard of visual cues, electronic cues and alarms in the hours leading up to the grounding, and that an ultimate reliance on what would turn out to be inaccurate Digital Nautical Charts (DNC) during the planning and execution of the navigation plan ultimately led to a degradation of the ship’s navigation ability.
The US Navy added that further administrative action is under consideration. The commanding officer of ex-Guardian, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, the executive officer/navigator Lt. Daniel Tyler, the assistant navigator, and the officer of the deck at the time of the grounding were relieved of their duties on April 3 by Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7.
“This tragic mishap was wholly preventable and was the product of poor voyage planning, poor execution, and unfortunate circumstances. This investigation uncovers no single point of failure; instead, there were numerous links in the error chain leading up to the grounding. Had any one of which been appropriately addressed, the grounding would have been prevented,” Haney wrote.
Still, Haney has words of praise for the “heroic efforts of the crew to save their ship.” Emphasizing the actions of the Engineering and Damage Control teams, Haney said that their efforts were instrumental in reinforcing the ship’s hull integrity despite multiple breaches. He also commended the Boat Coxswains, Damage Control Assistant, and the Navy rescue swimmers who all ensured the safe evacuation of the crew without significant injuries.
The US Navy is facing a P58-million ($1.4-million) fine due to the incident, which damaged 2,345.67 square meters of the Tubbataha Reef, a marine protected area.
The US minesweeper just finished a port call in Subic way when it ran aground, approximately 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan Island, while on its way to Indonesia last January 17. It was then subsequently dismantled, decommissioned and stricken from the naval registry.