MANILA, Philippines – A US Navy-led team on Friday, January 25, removed all diesel from the ship grounded on Tubbataha Reef, ruling out fuel leak in the internationally recognized marine site.
The US 7th Fleet said the team safely transferred around 15,000 gallons of fuel to Vos Apollo, a contracted Malaysian tug, from the grounded minesweeper USS Guardian. No fuel has leaked since the USS Guardian ran aground in Tubbataha last January 17, the fleet added.
“One of our priorities was to get the fuel out of the ship in order to minimize environmental damage,” said the operation’s on-scene commander, Rear Admiral Tom Carney.
The defueling took place over the last two days, the US Navy said.
The US Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Philippine Navy, however, have failed to safely remove the ship a week after the grounding. On Feb 1, two heavy lift ship-borne cranes will likely be brought to Tubbataha to help pull out the USS Guardian.
“The problem is very complex, and both Naval architects and salvage engineers are working together to develop plans… The nature of the shipboard damage makes it a difficult operation, and the dynamic nature of the environment increases those challenges,” Carney said.
On Friday, the US government formally apologized to the Philippines for the incident. But it failed to address the protest of the Tubbataha park management against the US Navy’s “misbehavior.”
Tubbataha is no ordinary reef, having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. It is also the Philippines’ first marine protected area, which not only attracts divers worldwide, but helps provide food to millions of Filipinos. – Rappler.com