US Navy faces fines for ship stranded in Tubbataha
Philippine authorities said Tuesday, January 22, they have fined the US Navy for "unauthorized entry" after an American minesweeper went aground on Tubbataha Reef

STILL STUCK. Philippine Air Force aerial image of the USS Guardian near the upper side of Tubbataha's South Atoll. Photo courtesy of AFP WESCOM

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) The management of Tubbataha Reef Natural Park announced on Tuesday, January 22, that it will ask the US Navy to immediately pay for the damage caused by a minesweeper stranded inside the protected area since last week.

“This is an unfortunate incident. No one wanted this to happen. But, damage has been done [and] we are duty-bound to enforce the law,” the management board said after meeting meeting at its office in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

In a statement, the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) explained that once the vessel is pulled out of the reef and damage is assessed, it will serve the US Navy a formal notice of violations committed according to Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park (TRNP) Act of 2009.

THe TPAMB added that it will serve “the US Navy with a formal notice listing violations of the above law in the grounding incident of January 17 involving the USS Guardian.”

“We will ask them to take responsibility, and immediately pay the fines that can be estimated at this time,” the statement added.

PRISTINE REEFS. The coral reefs of Tubbataha are healthy and free from parasites such as the nasty crown-of-thorns starfish that eats polyps, the live organisms that make up the coral. Photo by Lory Tan/WWF

Immediate, future penalties

The TPAMB detailed that the US Navy will be formally charged with 3 violations “evident at this time” of the following sections subject to penalties of the TRNP Act:

 Section  Violation Penalty
19 Unauthorized Entry Imprisonment of not less than 6 months but not more than 1 year and a fine of P100,000-300,000 
21  Non-payment of conservation fee   In addition to the payment of the conservation fee, pay the administrative fine of double the amount of the conservation fee set by the TPAMB for the activity undertaken
30 Obstruction of law enforcement officer  P50,000 administrative fine and cancellation of registration, permit and license of vessel and its officers

Once the damage is assessed, the US Navy will be subject to further fines for another two violations:

 Section  Violation Penalty
20 Damages to the reef The TRNP Act says that “damages 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 and to the payment of the cost of restoration” 
26g Destroying resources Imprisonment of 3 to 6 years, P100,000-300,000 fine, forfeiture of equipment, gear and vessel that made it possible for the offender to commit the offense, P300,000-1,000,000 fine administrative fine and confiscation of equipment, gear and vessel

The TPAMB said that a second notice of violation will be sent to the US Navy “that will quantify the estimate of destruction and the fines that must be paid.”

PARK RANGERS. Angelique Songco (center) with her staff at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Photo courtesy of Angelique Songco

No jail time

Board member Jose Lorenzo Tan, World Wildlife Fund Philippines CEO, told AFP that although the law prescribes jail penalties for some of the violations, the board had agreed to not seek prison terms.

“We initially decided to fine them,” said Tan.

The US embassy declined AFP comment on the alleged violations.

Tubbataha is off-limits to navigation except for research or tourism approved by marine park superintendent Angelique Songco.

Songco on Monday claimed that the ship’s commanding officer ignored their warnings, which prompted her to file a protest with the US embassy.

The US Navy apologized for the accident on Sunday and preliminary data suggests the accident was caused by faulty navigation, with reports from Agence France-Presse

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