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Salvaging operations on US Navy warship suffer delay

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Salvaging operations on the US Navy warship that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef have been delayed due to technical difficulties encountered at the site.

Coast Guard Palawan District commander Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista yesterday said they had to postpone the salvaging operations after the crane ship that was supposed to lift a portion of the USS Guardian off the reef had problems with its anchor when it failed to latch onto the sandy sea bottom.

Evangelista said the salvaging operations will be suspended for five days awaiting the arrival of the bigger crane ship M/T Jascon 25.

“There will be no cutting of the USS Guardian until the M/T Jascon 25 has arrived,” he added.

“Due to the difficulty in anchoring the Smit Borneo, the salvors decided not to continue… but instead wait for the arrival of the crane ship M/T Jascon 25. According to the salvors, the anchors of Smit Borneo were slipping,” Evangelista said.

He explained that if they allow the Borneo to lift parts of the Guardian, its crane could cause problems in the salvaging operations as it moves toward and away from the minesweeper.

Evangelista stressed the anchors will have to be stable enough to resist the sea current.

“We have to be careful it does not drift toward the corals,” he said.

Borneo was supposed to be positioned 10 meters away from the Tubbataha Reef and would lower four anchors. Two of the anchors were to be positioned at 800 meters and the remaining two at a depth of 300 meters.

Borneo is the smaller crane ship that will assist in the extraction of the Guardian since it can only carry a maximum of 500 tons, while Jascon can lift 800 tons.

Evangelista, who also heads the Task Force Tubbataha, said Jascon was expected to depart from Singapore yesterday and arrive at Tubbataha Reef on Feb. 15.

He said Jascon has a dynamic positioning system and will no longer need an anchor to keep it stable during the operation.

“It has the capability to stay or maintain its position even if it does not lower its anchor,” Evangelista said.

In the meantime, the team will continue removing equipment, furniture and fixtures from the troubled US vessel so that once they begin cutting the ship into pieces, no small parts will fall into the sea and further damage the corals, Evangelista said.

The 68-meter USS Guardian ran aground at the Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17 en route to Indonesia from Subic. It was reportedly carrying 15,000 gallons of automotive diesel oil.

It has been estimated that the incident has damaged 4,000 square meters of the corals.

The US Navy has also hired the services of salvaging ships M/T Trabajador 1 of Malayan Towage and Salvaging Corp. and the Vos Apollo of a Malaysian company based in Singapore. The US Navy’s USNS Salvor is also at the site.

Before the cutting of the vessel into pieces, all the fuel inside the ship has already been removed along with other materials that could be taken out without damaging the ship.

COAST GUARD PALAWAN DISTRICT COMMODORE ENRICO EFREN EVANGELISTA EVANGELISTA JASCON MALAYAN TOWAGE AND SALVAGING CORP SHIP SMIT BORNEO T JASCON T TRABAJADOR TUBBATAHA REEF
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