Lack of leadership led to Guardian grounding – US Navy

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines -  Visual and electronic cues as well as alarms were disregarded and a general “lack of leadership” led to the grounding of a US Navy minesweeper on Tubbataha Reef last January, the US Navy has found after an investigation.

In a 160-page report released yesterday, 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 involving the USS Guardian.

“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.

It was not clear what sanctions would be imposed on the crew.

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 were 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.”

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.

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

Republic Act 10067 prohibits entry to 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.

The 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, were questioning 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 that the ship’s crew members might not land in jail 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.

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

DND, AFP mum on report

Defense and military officials shied away from the US Navy report on the causes of the grounding of the USS Guardian.

“That would be best answered by the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) or VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) Commission,” Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief of the public affairs office of the Armed Forces, said when sought for comment about the report.

Department of National Defense (DND) spokesman Peter Galvez was also mum about the report.

Suspected lapses

Meanwhile, an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) yesterday said that earlier, they had suspected that lapses were committed by those navigating the USS Guardian.

Director Theresa Mundita Lim of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) said that if a team is not familiar with the area, running aground will most likely happen.

“There are maps provided so that incidents of getting within the prohibited area will be prevented,” Lim said.

However, she added that it is also not enough to rely only on visuals since an accurate estimation of your location is very important. – With Jaime Laude, Rhodina Villanueva


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