Fines to wait until US ship pulled out of Tubbataha – Palace

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The fines will be imposed based on a final assessment on the damage caused to the reef that has not been done yet, the government says

WAITING TO BE DISMANTLED. The mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian sits aground Tuesday, January 22, 2013 on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, where it ran aground on January 17th. AFP PHOTO / US NAVY

MANILA, Philippines – The amount of the compensation to be paid by the US Navy for the grounding of its ship in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park will depend on the final assessment of damage to the coral, Malacañang said on Monday, February 4.

“We still have to determine the amount of fines that are going to be imposed based on a final assessment on the damage caused to the reef and that has not been done yet,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters.

Lacierda clarified that the reef restoration aid for Tubbataha announced on Sunday by the US Embassy in Manila is assistance, “not compensation.”

“We’ve done initial dives and we’re waiting for a final assessment dive which will happen only after the ship has been extricated from the reef. So the press release (…) only provides what they have been doing for the past years and that’s insofar as assistance is concerned—nothing about payment of the fines,” he said.

Lacierda however welcomed the aid “over and above the fines that we are going to impose based on the law that we have in place.”

“The Philippine government values US efforts to preserve the marine park as an acknowledgement of the importance of the richness of the biodiversity that is found in Tubbataha Reef,” the spokesperson added.

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

Salvage operation on hold

Almost 3 weeks after the USS Guardian ran aground inside the protected area, Malacañang cannot say exactly when the salvage operation will begin, but the government stressed it wants the vessel pulled out as soon as possible.

“The instruction is as soon as possible. Certainly you would not want to create further damage so it has to be done meticulously but at the soonest possible time. That’s our preference and I think that’s being done also,” Lacierda said.

The US Navy draft plan for cutting the ship into pieces and removing it by sections to be transferred to a barge is currently being reviewed by the Philippine Coast Guard.

Lacierda said the public “should not be concerned” about the final extent of the damage, which will take some time as it can only be done after the USS Guardian is extricated from the reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world’s top dive sites.

“All this extent of damage that we hear right now are all preliminary. You cannot have a final assessment until the ship is extricated,” he said. – with reports from Carlos Santamaria/

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