All set for Tubbataha salvage operation
MANILA, Philippines - After the official approval from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), preparations are ready for the salvage operation of the US ship stuck in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park to begin on Sunday or Monday.
The USS Salvor barge, property of the US Navy, and the Malaysian tugboat Vos Apollo are already anchored near the stranded vessel but a considerable distance from the reef, while the SMIT Borneo floating crane is still looking for a spot to drop its own anchor in about 800 m deep water to minimize damage to the reef.
"All 3 vessels are on site, the weather has improved and should be fine for the next 2-3 days, so we may be able to start soon," PCG spokesman Cdr Armand Balilo told Rappler on Thursday, February 7.
The Coast Guard also insisted that the crane ship will not be another risk to the reef.
“It will only touch the sandy bottom of the ocean floor” and not touch any coral, PCG Palawan Cmdr Efen Evangelista said in a statement released on Thursday.
The US Department of Defense is expected to pay almost $25 million for the salvage operation to be carried out by the SMIT Borneo, which will cut the ship into pieces and lift each section onto a barge with its crane.
PH conducting own probe apart from joint mission
Balilo added that the operation will be conducted in close cooperation with the US Navy, as stipulated in the salvage plan approved by the Coast Guard and the government.
"They [the Americans] have been very cooperative. We exchange notes and they help us out when they can," he said.
Another provision of the approved salvage plan is joint assessment of damage before and after the USS Guardian is pulled out.
Balilo explained that the PCG has 2 teams of 5 divers with 2 more divers on standby surveying the reef and the position of the vessel to assist in the official probe ordered by Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya.
The Department of Transportation and Communications has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, which is conducting its own investigation apart from the joint mission with the Americans.
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 top scuba diving destinations.
At least two dive sites will be closed during the official March-June season due to the accident involving the US Navy minesweeper. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com