Tubbataha Reef at Greater Risk with Crane Ships Sent to Pull Out US Ship

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The crane ships sent to lift up the grounded minesweeper USS Guardian from the Philippine Tubbataha Reef has been foreseen to add more injury to the reef since it would need to drop an anchor right smack into the corals to keep it steady.

The United States Navy and Smit Borneo, the crane ship from Singapore, have submitted plans as to how they intend to salvage the USS Guardian, and recommendations from both tallied that the best way is to chop the grounded minesweeper into pieces, Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant, said on Monday.

"But I see a problem in the procedure of extracting parts of the ship. In their salvaging plans, the Smit Borneo and US vessels are supposed to anchor and of course, we have to clear this procedure with the Tubbataha Management Foundation if they would allow the vessels to anchor," Rear Admiral Isorena said.

Given the vessel's great damage and deterioration, plus the sensitivity of the area where it grounded, it would be best to just dismantle it in sections, according to Capt. Daryn James, a US Pacific Fleet spokesman. This would mean taking off first the mast, followed by the upper deck, bridge, smoke stack, second deck and lower deck.

"This would entail longer salvaging operations, however. Only after these structures have been removed will they begin chopping the wooden hull of the ship," Mr Isorena said.

"If it would anchor, it would create more damage to the reef. We will see if there is a need or if it is possible that they no longer have to lower its anchor and it would not affect the stability while undergoing operations or when it lifts the cut pieces of the vessel," Mr Isorena Isorena said.

SMIT Borneo arrived on Sunday at Puerto Princesa City in Palawan in the Phillipines. Local media reports said it is now headed to Tubbataha Reef.

However, no exact date of the proposed ship-breaking has been set, local newspaper Inquirer reported, quoting Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, a PCG spokesperson.

The US Pacific Fleet had earlier said it will take more than a month to dismantle the grounded USS Guardian.

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