US Navy needs PH approval of Tubbataha salvage plan

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The Philippines Coast Guard says it must approve the US Navy's salvage plan before the USS Guardian is lifted from a reef in Tubbataha

WAITING TO BE LIFTED. The mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian (MCM 5) sits aground Tuesday, January 22, 2013 on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, Philippines, where it ran aground on January 17th. Operations to recover the ship while minimizing environmental effects are being conducted in close cooperation with allied Philippines Coast Guard and Navy. AFP PHOTO / US NAVY

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Tuesday, January 29 requested the US Navy to submit its plan to extricate a ship stuck in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park for approval before the salvage operation starts.

After ruling out other options like dragging the vessel with a tugboat or dismantling it piece by piece, the Americans last week decided to lift the USS Guardian with a crane and then transfer it to a barge.

“We need to see and approve the salvage plan because we want to ensure that it will not inflict further damage on the coral reefs,” said PCG Cmdr Efren Evangelista.

Two cranes from a Singapore-based salvage company hired by the US Navy are expected to arrive on Friday, February 1, but that does not mean the operation will start already that day.

“We don’t have a timeframe when the salvage operation can start as we are still waiting for the arrival of the salvage ship,” Evangelista noted.

DAMAGE ASSESSMENT. A Philippine Coast Guard diver inspects the coral damage near the ships's hull. Photo courtesy of PCG

Hoisting ship ‘dangerous’?

Meanwhile, a group of PCG divers is assessing the damage to the reef.

At least 17 of the ship’s hull are buried in the coral near the upper side of Tubbataha’s South Atoll, placing the damage at between 1,000 and 1,600 sqm of reef, based on initial estimates from the government and park officials.

The USS Guardian ran aground inside the 97,030-hectare protected area of the marine park on January 17 when the US Navy minesweeper was on its way to Indonesia after a port call in Subic, Zambales.

A military officer in Palawan said he’s not sure that hoisting the vessel is the best idea, as this could be potentially “difficult and more dangerous” than the other two options discussed.

The officer, who requested to remain anonymous, suggested cutting the hull into smaller parts before lifting it out of the water to avoid damaging more coral when it is moved from its current location. – with reports from Carlos Santamaria/

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