US 7th Fleet commander expresses regret on Tubbataja Reef damage
MANILA, Philippines – The United States 7th Fleet Commander expressed regret over the damage caused by the USS Guardian that ran aground on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.
“As a protector of the sea and a sailor myself, I greatly regret any damage this incident has caused to the Tubbataha Reef,” said Vice Adm. Scott Swift. “We know the significance of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and its importance as a World Heritage Site. Its protection is vital, and we take seriously our obligations to protect and preserve the maritime environment.”
The US Navy is already undertaking an investigation “to determine the exact cause of the grounding.”
Swift said that Rear Adm. Thomas Carney, Commander of Logistics Group Western Pacific, will take over on Jan. 21 as the on-scene commander to oversee the Guardian recovery operations.
Carney will embark the destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89), which along with several other US Navy support vessels, is focused on preventing any further environmental damage to the reef and surrounding marine environment, Swift said.
The USS Guardian made a port call in Subic Bay on January 13 for a routine fuel stop, and later canceled a scheduled fuel stop to Puerto Princesa. It departed Olongapo City en route to Indonesia and was transiting the Sulu Sea when the grounding occurred at approximately 2:25 a.m. Thursday last week.
As of Jan. 20, the condition of the Guardian has not changed; the ship is still grounded with no one onboard and there are no traces of an oil slick in the area, the statement added.
Based in Sasebo, Japan, the Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship remains stuck on Tubbataha Reef’s south atoll, approximately 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan Island.
While no one was injured during the Jan. 17 grounding, essential Navy crewmembers have not yet returned to survey Guardian, due to a concern for personnel safety caused by hazardous weather conditions and poor sea states. Once the survey is complete, recovery efforts will commence, the statement also said.
“When the Guardian is safely recovered by the US Navy, the US government will continue to work with the Republic of Philippines government to assess the extent of the damage to the reef and the surrounding marine environment caused by the grounding. The Republic of the Philippines government was promptly informed of the incident and is being updated regularly by US officials,” it added.