The Philippine government today began determining the damage caused by a U.S. Navy minesweeper that ran aground on a coral reef in the island nation’s Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The U.S.S. Guardian struck the reef January 17 and remains stuck there due to bad weather.
Park superintendent Angelique Songco said that the ship must be removed immediately to prevent further damage to the reef, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular dive spots in the Philippines. Songco said that the United States government could be liable for fines of up to 1 million pesos ($25,000), depending on the damage to the reef.
According to the report, the minesweeper made an unauthorized entry into the park and also failed to notify local authorities when it entered or why it entered. An aerial survey by the Philippine Air Force shows that the ship may have rammed through 10 meters of coral. The width of the ship was pegged at 11.88 meters, or 38 feet wide.
The reef was last damaged by a Greenpeace ship that ran aground in 2005. The activist organization was fined nearly 400,000 pesos ($10,000 at January 2013 exchange rates) by the park’s management. In addition to providing medical assistance to U.S. crewmembers, the Philippine Coast Guard and navy brought in equipment to help mitigate any fuel spills that may occur during the ungrounding.
The 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.