US Navy: 'Lack of leadership' reason for running aground Tubbataha

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The United States (US) Navy has blamed “lack of leadership” for the grounding of the warship USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef, which has caused extensive damage to one of the country’s marine sanctuaries.

In a 160-page report released Friday, US Pacific Fleet Adm. Cecil Haney said the crew of the ship had “failed to adhere to prudent, safe, and sound navigation principles” that could have prevented the incident.

“Ultimately, the lack of leadership led to increased navigational risk to the ship and her crew,” Haney said.

“This tragic mishap was wholly preventable and was the product of poor voyage planning, poor execution, and unfortunate circumstances,” he added.

Haney said the ship’s watch team had disregarded visual cues, electronic cues and alarms in the hours leading up to the grounding.

The team, Haney said, relied primarily on an “inaccurate” digital nautical chart during planning and execution of the navigation plan even if there are other sources of information.

The USS Guardian leadership was also scored for failing to exercise due diligence when implementing personnel transfers.

Haney said the ship’s leadership “failed to recognize that key personnel transfers within the navigation team had degraded USS Guardian’s navigation capability to an unacceptable level.”

Four US Navy officers were relieved from their posts even before the findings of the investigation were completed. Relieved were USS Guardian commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, second-in-command and navigator Lt. Daniel Tyler, the assistant navigator, and two other unnamed officers.

“Further disciplinary and administrative action is under consideration,” Haney said.

The US Navy, nevertheless, cited the ship’s crew for their supposed “heroic efforts” to save the ship. Haney said the actions of the ship’s engineering and damage control teams reinforced the structural integrity of the ship despite multiple breaches to its hull.

“While facing dangerous seas, the Boat Coxswains, Damage Control Assistant, and Navy rescue swimmers ensured the safe evacuation of the crew without any significant injuries. In short, their efforts saved lives,” he said.

The Tubbataha reef spans 130,028 hectares and has been named a World Heritage Site owing to its extensive coral network.

Republic Act 10067 prohibits the entry to the Tubbataha reef without the permission of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board. Violators will be slapped with a jail term of up to one year and a fine that ranges from P100,000 to P300,000.

US warship USS Guardian had just completed a port call in Subic Bay and was on its way to Indonesia to join a training exercise when it ran aground dawn of Jan. 17 at the reef’s south atoll.

The US Navy initially blamed “faulty navigation data” for the grounding of the 1,300-ton, 68-meter-long ship.

Some sectors, however, questioned why the US ship was in the area. There were also speculations that the USS Guardian crew had too much “rest and recreation” in Subic.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya earlier said the ship’s crew members might escape liability due to practices granting immunity to foreign vessels

The US has apologized for the incident and promised to help in the rehabilitation of the damaged areas.

The Philippines has asked the US to pay about P58 million for the damage, which spanned 2,345.67 square meters of coral reefs.

USS Guardian was removed completely from the reef last March 31 after two months of salvage operations.



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