Want to dive in Tubbataha? 2 sites will be off limits
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines - The salvage operation of the USS Guardian stuck in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park will run into the three-month official diving season and two dives sites will be affected, the Philippine Coast Guard announced on Tuesday, February 5.
"We will cordon off the area once diving season starts, because we anticipate that divers will want to get as close as they can to the ship," said PCG Commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena.
Isorena told reporters after a closed-door meeting here that once the final salvage plan drafted by the US Navy is approved, the operation will commence immediately and continue until April or May.
The 2013 official diving season for Tubbataha starts on March 18 and ends on June 16, while the two dive sites to be closed will probably be Black Rock and East Face on the upper side of the marine park's South Atoll.
The remaining 13 dive sites will still be open to the public, according to park officials.
So far, initial assessments have put the damaged coral reef areas at between 1,600 and 4,000 sqm.
The USS Guardian ran aground on January 17 inside the protected area of the marine park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world's best diving destinations.
Floating cranes to be anchored away from reef
The PCG is now reviewing the latest draft of the salvage plan submitted by the US Navy to extricate the vessel by first cutting it up into pieces and using floating cranes to transfer each section to a barge.
"They have presented the salvage plan and it seems quite good," he told reporters.
Isorena explained that the operator of the Singapore-based SMIT Borneo assured stakeholders that the crane ship will be anchored "at a considerable distance from the reefs to minimize damage."
"They explained that they will anchor off the reef and the distance of the SMIT Borneo will be quite far from the reef" at a depth of around 800 m, he said.
Under the new plan, a US Navy salvage vessel will dismantle the USS Guardian into smaller sections, beginning with the mast and smokestack, and these will be lifted off the water with the 2 cranes.
The SMIT Borneo's crane has a lifting capacity of 500 metric tons and can operate in slightly rough weather.
Its 110 m pedestal crane reaches up to 54 m, so it will be able to pick up the sections of the USS Guardian without getting too close to the reef, and it can accommodate up to 150 people on board. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com