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Kerry reiterates US apology over Tubbataha

US Secretary of State John Kerry greets Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario in Washington. AP

CHICAGO – United States Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated on Tuesday his country’s apology for the damage to corals at the Tubbataha Reef caused by a US Navy minesweeper.

Kerry pledged to cooperate with the Philippine government in an investigation into the grounding of the USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef in Palawan on Jan. 17.

The vessel was carrying 15,000 gallons of fuel oil when it got stuck on a coral shelf in the protected marine area, a World Heritage Site.

Experts had to disassemble the disabled warship to remove it from the reef. The process was completed early this week.

“Secretary Kerry once again expressed his deep regret over the incident. He reiterated the cooperation of the United States in efforts to address the damage caused by the grounding,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

The two top diplomats met on Tuesday for the first time since Kerry assumed office in January.

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Del Rosario also said he and Kerry agreed not to let the Tubbataha incident stand in the way  of security cooperation between the Philippines and the US.

“We also both agreed that we would not let this incident delay or derail our efforts to deepen our security cooperation, including plans to increase the rotational presence of US forces in the Philippines to help build the defense capacity and increase the maritime domain awareness of the Philippines,” del Rosario added.

“I would like to reiterate my own assurance to the Filipino public that every effort will be made to obtain proper compensation. We also are of the view that a long term commitment of resources by the US to the future well-being of the reef is important,” Del Rosario said.

“With the ship off the reef, our teams will be carrying out a joint assessment of the damage, after which more detailed discussions will be held on the appropriate as well as timely compensation,” Del Rosario said, adding that a joint damage assessment by Philippine and US experts is scheduled on April 8.

“We were both thankful that in removing the USS Guardian, no further damage was done to the reef,” the foreign affairs secretary said.– With Rhodina Villanueva, Rainier Allan Ronda and Pia Lee-Brago

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