MANILA, Philippines - The US Navy admitted that ignoring and barring Tubbataha Reef Natural Park rangers to board the USS Guardian when it first crashed into the coral was "unfortunate" and will be investigated.
“That was an unfortunate incident that happened right at the start of the event,” a Navy official was quoted in a report published on Tuesday, January 22 (Wednesday, January 23 in Manila) by the Navy Times.
The official added that “since [then] we’ve had good communications with the Philippines throughout this incident.”
According to the Navy source, park rangers arrived on the scene within hours of the grounding but while the ship was at "general quarters."
“They were still trying to determine the ship’s state,” the official said.
General quarters or battle stations is a security condition that precludes taking aboard visitors, even if they are entitled under law to approach the vessel.
The incident will be part of the overall investigation into the grounding, the Navy Times added.
Park superintendent Angelique Songco filed last week a formal protest with the US Embassy in Manila over the "behavior" of the Americans after the crash and on Monday revealed they disregarded warnings when the rangers informed the vessel that it was approaching the reef.
Legarda calls for Senate probe
Sen Loren Legarda, a known environment advocate, filed on Wednesday a resolution calling for the Senate to open an inquiry into the grounding of the USS Guardian inside the protected area of the multi-awarded natural park and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, in particular wants to clarify why the ship's commanding officer deployed armed sailors on deck to deter park rangers from boarding or even approaching the vessel.
“A full investigation should be conducted by concerned agencies in order to strengthen existing mechanisms for protecting the World Heritage Site. Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) Act [of 2009] clearly states that any damage to the reef shall subject the responsible person or entity to the payment of administrative fines set by the TPAMB based on current valuation standards, as well as the cost of restoration," she said.
The park management board agreed on Tuesday it will fine the US Navy both for violations that are now evident as well as future offenses once the ship is pulled out of the reef and damage to the coral is assessed.
No jail time will be sought.
"Those responsible for the damage on the Tubbataha Reef should own up and pay up,” Legarda stressed.
According to the senator, the grounding of a foreign vessel inside a protected area "highlights the need to ensure full protection of the Philippines’ marine resources by all vessels, foreign or domestic, within territorial waters amidst geo-political developments in the region.” - Rappler.com