Salvaging operations for US ship in Tubbataha begin

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Salvaging operations for the USS Guardian began yesterday after the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) allowed a crane ship to lower its four anchors some 10 meters away from the protected area.

Coast Guard Palawan district chief Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista said the Smit Borneo arrived at the site at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The crane ship is needed to chop off the 68-meter-long US Navy minesweeper into smaller parts. The sections would be transferred  to another ship.

Evangelista said the Smit Borneo had started rigging its anchor, which takes time because it must be lowered deep into the Sulu Sea.

“There has to be precision in anchoring to make sure that the anchor would land at the correct spot,” he said,

Evangelista, who also heads the Task Force Tubbataha, said the TPAMB issued a manifestation agreeing to have the anchors lowered far from the damaged reef.

“Ten meters (from the edge of the reef) is already a very safe distance,” he said.

The Smit Borneo will drop four anchors. The two at the bow will be lowered to a depth of 800 meters, which will hit sandy bottom, and the two at the stern will hit a depth of 300 meters.

Its crane can carry up to 500 tons.

Evangelista said fair weather was needed to ensure little movement in the water that could cause the minesweeper to drift.

The salvage team will use power tools and other equipment to cut the vessel into pieces. A generator will be on hand if needed.

Evangelista said the TPAMB set several conditions before agreeing to allow the ship to drop anchor.

These include a joint initial ecological assessment before and after the salvaging operations, to be conducted by the Coast Guard and park rangers.

Two representatives from the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) will also join the Smit Borneo as observers.

The TPAMB also required nets or containment barriers to prevent further damage to the reef as the salvaging gets underway.

Those engaged in the salvaging operations are also required to abide by Tubbataha park rules and regulations.

The Guardian ran aground last Jan. 17 and is estimated to have so far damaged 4,000 square meters of coral.

US authorities reported removing the 15,000 liters of automotive diesel oil and other hazardous materials on the ship.

Meanwhile, the militant group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) slammed President Aquino for agreeing to the proposal to tap US troops to guard Tubbataha to prevent another accident.

Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France said the President’s proposal is “patently unpatriotic.”

He said Aquino should instead pursue “criminal and other appropriate charges” against US Navy officials and the 79 crew members of the Guardian.    

Last Tuesday, Aquino welcomed the idea of deploying a US Navy- led, Peace Corps-type volunteer team to help guard Tubbataha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aquino said the volunteers under the command of the US Navy would not only guard the reef but also help in rehabilitation efforts and ensure that no ship would aground in the area again. – With Ding Cervantes

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