Tubbataha repair will take 'years' - U.S.
MANILA, Philippines - Repairing the damage caused by the USS Guardian to Tubbataha Reef will take years even if the ship is removed as early as next month, US officials said on Wednesday, March 21.
"We will assess the damage with the Philippine Navy, but we know honestly that it will take years to repair," US ambassador Harry Thomas admitted during the annual Kapihan sa Embahada meeting with defense reporters.
The US Navy, Thomas explained, has been working carefully with the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard "to ensure the ship can be removed without causing any additional damage to the reef."
"This is a very difficult and delicate operation to remove the ship in this manner. We are spending lots of funds to do this," he added.
The USS Guardian ran aground on January 17 inside the protected area of the marine park, a UNESCO World Heritage site considered one of the best diving spots in the world.
Pulling the minesweeper out of the reef will cost the US Department of Defense at least US$25 million, according to the contract signed with the Singapore-based private company hired to lead the salvage operation in the Sulu Sea.
Salvage operation on schedule
A month after the salvage operation finally began following many delays due to bad weather, progress is being made and workers are getting ready to start cutting up the hull, another senior American official confirmed.
"Things are progressing pretty well," said Cdr David Cole, Deputy Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines.
Cole noted that if the weather cooperates, the USS Guardian may be fully removed from the reef "sometime next month, on schedule."
Three weeks ago the Coast Guard said that salvage teams had been able to remove the funnel, a major step toward pulling out the minesweeper.
Also pulled out were pieces of sensitive equipment like the sonar winch.
Sensitive equipment from the USS Guardian will be re-used but most of the ship will have to be scrapped after its hull was breached when the ship ran aground.
The wood-and-fibreglass hulled boat, estimated to cost about $277 million, was too badly damaged to be towed away.
PH officials invited to Japan
Cole also announced that Philippine Navy and Coast Guard officials have been invited to Japan to be briefed on the US Navy's ongoing investigation of the crash.
The incident --- which has fueled anger in the Philippines against its former colonial power -- was initially blamed on faulty navigation charts.
Asked if the commanding officer or crew members will face administrative charges for their roles in the events that led to the crash, Cole and other US officials refused to speculate on the results of the ongoing probe.
Vessels sailing into Tubbataha need permission, but Philippine authorities claimed the crew of the USS Guardian made no request to enter and even ignored radio messages that it was about to hit the reef.
Cole only said that after the USS Guardian is extricated, officials from both countries will conduct a joint assessment of the damage which will be used to determine compensation demanded by President Benigno Aquino III.
Thomas recalled that the United States has repeatedly apologized for the incident and stressed that Washington will "clearly compensate the government and the people of the Philippines for the harm caused." - Rappler.com