USS Guardian out of Tubbataha by April 1
MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED) A major step towards removing the USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef has been accomplished after the crew began dismantling the hull, the US Navy said on Wednesday, March 27.
Salvage personnel started cutting up the hull of the minesweeper on Tuesday afternoon once the bow section was successfully lifted and transferred to a barge, according to a statement from the US Pacific Fleet.
Park superintendent Angelique Songco and Gregg Yan from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) told Rappler this means the vessel may be fully removed from the reef as early as April 1.
Yan said that the Tubbataha management office is currently forming a team that should be prepared to conduct coral damage assessment as soon as the ship is pulled out.
The team will include experts from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, National Institute of Physics, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, De Lasalle University as well as WWF.
So far the damage has been estimated at 4,000 sqm of coral.
"Preparing the ship for this sectioning has been extremely challenging. We have had to painstakingly clear about a 2-foot path inside the ship, removing everything that is in our way," salvage operations officer in charge Capt Mark Matthews said in the statement.
Matthews added that from now on, the cutting will be done both on surface using chainsaws and reciprocating saws with the help of "hydraulically-driven tools."
The statement stressed that no fuel has leaked since the USS Guardian ran aground on January 17 and about 15,000 gallons of diesel oil as well as other potentially toxic liquids and substances were safely transferred off the ship before the salvage operation began.
About a month ago, the Philippine Coast Guard said that salvage teams had been able to remove the funnel, another major step toward pulling out the minesweeper, as well as pieces of sensitive equipment like the sonar winch.
The wood-and-fibreglass hulled boat, estimated to cost about $277 million, was too badly damaged to be towed away. in a salvage operation that will cost at least $25 million. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com