The U.S. Navy minesweeper that remains grounded on Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines has so far destroyed close to 11,000 square feet of reef at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Philippine government is coordinating with the U.S. Navy about removal options.
These include dragging the ship off the reef, lifting it, and cutting it into several pieces and removing it off the coral reef. A troubling aspect with regard to the grounding of the USS Guardian is the fact that the command on the ship did not ask for permission from the park’s authorities to enter the marine sanctuary as mandated by the island nation’s Republic Act No. 10067, also known as the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009.
“We have no details on that, that’s why we’ll just wait for the fact-finding [team’s report], if there’s any. That’s the reason why [Philippine] President Aquino was asking. . . with so much sophisticated navigation equipment, what happened? So that’s also being looked into,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said at a Malacañang Palace briefing, the seat of power in this nation of 7,107 islands.
In fact, initial reports regarding the grounding when it occurred last week stated that the captain of the minesweeper, just prior to the ship hitting the reef, told the park’s authorities to take it up with the U.S. Embassy when it was communicated to them that they were entering a marine protected area. The minesweeper has been stuck on the reef for more than 8 days and continues to damage the reef. According to the Inquirer, representatives of the U.S. Navy are meeting with a salvage operator in Singapore to determine how to best remove the ship from the protected reef without further damaging the reef.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is located in the middle of the Sulu Sea and encompasses nearly 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of marine habitat, including three atolls. Thousands of marine species call the park home, many of which are familiar in the aquarium trade.