The US Navy plans to dismantle a Navy Ship that ran aground on a World-hertiage coral reef in Philippine waters.
It wants to break up the USS Guardian to prevent further damage to the globally important marine park.
At first, US officials wanted to save the ship but now they admit that it will have to be broken up and taken away bit by bit.
Task Force Tubbataha Commander Efren Evangelista says they are closely coordinating with the US Navy for the removal of the ship.
“Right now they are still on the preparation phase, removing whatever portable gears they have on board and next will be the removal of the wreck by ship breaking. So they are awaiting for the arrival of the crane to lift the sections of the vessel.”
The main priority is to minimize further damage to this United Nations World heritage site.
The Tubbataha Reef is the most diverse under water areas in the Phillipines….
It’s an important breeding area that supports the fishing grounds of Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Tubbataha Marine Park Executive Director Angelique Songco says the US vessel did not obtain permission to enter the protected area.
“One of the first rules that was violated was section 19 which is about unauthorized entry. And another one is Section 30 which is obstruction of law enforcement officers. We felt that our people were obstructed from doing their duties because the attitude of the Americans when arrive. Also the major violation, which is Section 20, is damages to the reef.”
And the Philippine government says they will make the US Navy pay.
Environmental group Greenpeace was fined almost $7,000 dollars after its flagship Rainbow Warrior II ran aground on the same reef.
The US Navy is investigating why their ship went off course and say it might have been because of inaccurate digital navigation charts.
Segundo Conales is a park ranger at the Tubbataha Reef.
“I think the US Navy didn’t have an updated map of Tubbataha that shows the boundaries where you can only navigate. Even if they have modern navigational apparatus, it is still better if they had an updated map.”
The fine is 300 US dollars per square meter of damaged reef.
And the Philippines Coast Guard is constantly watching... says Commodore Efren Evangelista.
“They have sent a biologist. Everyday, we are getting water sampling from the area and we are monitoring what activities are being conducted in the area. We’re conducting joint patrols with the rangers as well as with our US Navy counterparts.”
The Philippines and the US have close military ties and they regularly hold joint training exercises.
The Philippines military has been quick to down play the significance of the incident.
Palawan’s military chief Lt. Gen. Juanco Sabban.
“I think this is a minor incident and it is under investigation. I don’t think this will affect the relations between the United States Armed Forces and our Armed Forces. In the past they have committed some mistakes and immediately we were able to claim damages also and we have seen this in exercise areas where there were unintended mistakes done by the US that they were able to pay damages…”
The Tubbataha Reefs is in the Sulu Sea and adjacent to many disputed territories in the China Sea.
The Philippines sees the US as a key ally able to protect it from China.
While the Philippines military is keen to forget the incident environmental groups say at least 1,000 square meters of coral reef have been damaged.
Tubbataha Marine Park Executive Director Angelique Songco reiterates the importance of protection of the reef.
“Tubbataha is not just a property of the Philippines. The Philippines has promised has promised the whole world that we are going to take this irreplaceable resource because we want to transmit it to future generations of humankind.”
The US Navy says it is willing to pay but it will take many years for the reef to recover.
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