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Doomed US Navy ship removed from Philippine reef

By Jim Gomez

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 06:59 a.m. HST, Mar 31, 2013


MANILA, Philippines >> Workers in the southwestern Philippines have removed the last major part of a U.S. Navy minesweeper from a protected coral reef where it ran aground in January, and the damage will be assessed to determine the fine Washington will pay, officials said Sunday.

A crane lifted the 250-ton stern of the dismantled USS Guardian on Saturday from the reef, where it accidentally got stuck Jan. 17, officials said. The reef, designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural arm, is located in the Tubbataha National Marine Park in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.

The doomed ship's parts will be transported to a Navy facility in Sasebo, Japan, to determine which ones can be reused and which will be junked, Philippine coast guard Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista said.

Workers were cleaning debris at the site, where American and Filipino experts this week will begin a final assessment of the reef damage, to be paid for by Washington. An initial estimate showed about 4,780 square yards of coral reef was damaged by the ship grounding, according to Tubbataha park superintendent Angelique Songco. She said it was unlikely the estimate would change significantly.

Songco said the fine would be about $600 per square meter, so the U.S. could be facing a bill of more than $2 million.

The fine will go to a fund for the upkeep of the reef, Songco said, adding that Filipino and U.S. scientists will inspect the reef this week to determine the best way to "rehabilitate" the damaged parts. One option is to let the reef heal by itself, which would take a long time but be less complicated. Another option is to carry out some "repairs" to the reef, which would be more costly and complicated, she said.

Songco said her agency did not have plans to pursue charges against U.S. authorities over the incident.

Asked if the Philippine government would press charges against U.S. Navy officials, Philippine Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III, did not reply directly, but said, "There must be accountability and we will enforce our existing laws."

The warship's removal closes an embarrassing episode as Washington reasserts its presence in Asia amid China's rise. The Navy and the U.S. ambassador to Manila, Harry K. Thomas, have both apologized for the grounding and promised to cooperate with America's longtime Asian ally.

"As we have stated in the past, we regret this incident and the United States is prepared to pay compensation for the damage to the reef," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement, adding that it was cooperating with a Philippine government investigation of the incident.

A separate U.S. government investigation on the cause of the grounding has not yet been completed, the embassy said.

Aquino has said that the U.S. Navy must explain how the ship got off course, and that the Navy will face fines for damaging the environment.

The Guardian was en route to Indonesia after making a rest and refueling stop in Subic Bay, a former American naval base west of Manila, when it ran aground before dawn Jan. 17. It strayed more than 3 miles into an offshore area off-limits to navigation before hitting the reef, Songco said.

Philippine officials are considering asking the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. agency responsible for improving maritime safety, to declare the Tubbataha park a "particularly sensitive sea area" so steps can be taken to further protect the area from future shipping accidents, she said.







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manakuke wrote:
A perilous environment for the littoral ships.
on March 31,2013 | 04:59AM
Carang_da_buggahz wrote:
"...and the damage will be assessed to determine the fine Washington will pay, officials said Sunday." This sounds like a boondoggle ripe for the picking. Knowing how things work in these Third World countries, they'll seriously pad the bill, then they'll raise a hissy fit when the U.S. refuses to pay their extortionist demands. In the end, little of that money will actually go to protecting this reef. Most of it will line the pockets of "officials" who will come out of the woodwork like cockroaches suddenly exposed to the light of day. And besides, the locals are probably pillaging the reef by using such proven methods as Clorox and Dynamite.
on March 31,2013 | 07:36AM
kukunaokala wrote:
Arenʻt you speaking about Port Royal? 8.5 million to the State, not one penny to fix the damage! Someone should just do a story on that one, go look at the site, its bad.
on March 31,2013 | 09:09AM
cojef wrote:
The US Navy claims that the area marine maps did not indicate any reefs where the mishap occurred. Simply, means it was uncharted, but the question remains, why was the vessel proceeding in uncharted waters within a national marine park, a UN designated World Heritage site. The captain of the USS Guardian will have to face a board of inquiry and his personnel file noted accordingly, meaning his chance for Admiral stripes very low, if ever.
on March 31,2013 | 08:31AM
false wrote:
There is a difference between uncharted and misscharted or undercharted waters. But I suppose you know that.
on March 31,2013 | 02:51PM
sailfish1 wrote:
Unbelievable that they had to cut the ship apart to remove it from the reef. What a huge loss and then they have to pay penalties for damage to the reef. The captain and other higher ups from that ship need to be thrown out of the Navy for total incompetence.
on March 31,2013 | 09:46AM
MizuInOz wrote:
Obviously, you have never screwed up. Not once in your entire life. Wow.
on March 31,2013 | 09:15PM
rayhawaii wrote:
The fine will go to a fund for the upkeep of the reef........or in someones pocket I bet, like we all know will happen.
on March 31,2013 | 09:37PM
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