US Navy ship damages Tubbataha Reef National Park

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

USS Guardian.
Image: U.S. Navy.

The USS Guardian, a United States Navy vessel used for destroying mines, ran aground in the Philippines' Tubbataha Reef National Park in the Sulu Sea on Thursday, according to the US Navy.

The US Navy said the incident occurred at 2:25 a.m. local time about 130 km east-southeast of the province of Palawan in the Philippines and about 98 nautical miles from Puerto Princesa, the capital of the province. There were no reports of injuries nor signs of fuel leakage. The ship has a crew of 80 and had previously completed a port call at Subic Bay earlier in the week.

The US Navy also said they were investigating the incident. They also said in a statement, "The crew is currently working to determine the best method of safely extracting the ship". An Avenger class mine countermeasures ship, the ship was on its way to Puerto Princesa in Palawan. It is assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet and based in Sasebo, Nagasaki in Japan.

The US Embassy in Manila stated, "The Government of the Philippines was promptly informed of the incident and offered to assist the U.S. Navy, and we greatly appreciate their offers of assistance [...] The safety of the Guardian’s crew and preventing harm to the environment are the U.S. Navy's top priorities". An official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines based in Palawan told reporters they have deployed a force offering to assist the Guardian.

Under sections 19 and 26 of the Tubbataha Reefs National Park Act of 2009, Republic Act 10067, the US Navy can be charged with unauthorized entry and could pay 12,000PHP for each square meter of reef destroyed.

A similar incident occurred in 2005 when the Rainbow Warrior ran aground in the same vicinity. Greenpeace, an environmental advocacy group and owners of the Rainbow Warrior, were fined 384,000PHP (US$6,857) for damaging a reef area of 32 by 3 meters (105 by 10 feet).

Tubbataha Reef has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993 and covers 97,030 hectares. A diverse variety of coral reef and marine life currently take refuge within the park including sharks and turtles. The reef is also known as a popular recreational diving site.