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article imagePhl wants immediate removal of USS Guardian from protected reef

By Leo Reyes     Jan 20, 2013 in Environment
The Philippine government wants the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO world heritage site in southern Philippines, removed immediately to prevent further damage to the reef.
The US warship hit the protected reef Thursday, while navigating the Sulo sea on en route to India after refueling in Subic Bay in Zambales.
According the the US 7th Fleet Commander, all 79 crew members were temporarily removed from the warship by small boat for transfer to US support vessels.
The US Embassy in Manila says in a statement on Saturday that the US Navy is working to free the warship from the reef.
“The Government of the Philippines was promptly informed of the incident and is being updated regularly,” the statement said.
“The full extent of any damage to the reef cannot be determined until the ship is freed from the reef. There are no reports of leaking of fuel or oil from the ship,” it added.
There are reports that at least 10 meters of corals have been damaged but Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Avigail Valte said, "the government would check the full extent of the damage and enforce the laws after recommendations from investigators."
“There are laws that we have to implement because it is a World Heritage site. We will see first what the investigation of the concerned agencies will yield and then, what their recommendations will be. And then, we move forward with the guidance of what the law provides,” Valte said.
Environmentalists are concerned that any more delays in the removal of the ship could push the vessel to move around the corals and cause more damage to the reef due to big waves and strong wind.
Director Mundirta Lim of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said, "bad weather, big waves have been pushing the ship further to the ground thus, causing more damage to the corals and affecting other marine species in the area.”
“We hope that the vessel can be removed as soon as possible with the least damage to the coral reefs,” Lim stressed.
Tubbataha Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Marine Sanctuary located in the Sulo Sea in southern Philippines. (Photo by Wescom, Phl Army)
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