Manila: The US Navy has decided to siphon out thousands of oil from a warship before extricating it from coral reefs where it got stuck and destroyed a part of the 97,000 hectare wide and World Heritage-listed marine park in southwestern Philippines last January 17.
“The first priority is to get the (57,000 litres of) fuel out of the (USS Guardian) ship as soon as possible,” Rear Admiral Thomas Carney said, adding that two more US Navy ships would sail to Tubbataha Reefs to undertake the “complicated process” in two weeks’ time.
Noting that other things must be done on the USS Guardian before it could be towed away from the coral reefs where it got stuck, Carney said, “It’s too badly damaged. It’s got hull penetrations in several places.”
He did not say how long the US Navy will repair the ship’s hull and other parts that might also be damaged. “The option that we hoped to be able to tow the ship off the reef is not available,” he explained..
“There’s a significant amount of water inside the ship right now,” complained Carney, as he enumerated other problems encountered by the US Navy that prevented it from taking away the USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reefs where about it has damaged 1,000 square metre of corals.
“It depends on the environmental conditions out there as to how safely we can proceed,” said Carney, adding that big waves have stopped efforts to take the warship out of the protected marine park.
Low pressure area affecting southwestern Philippines will remain for two more weeks, the government-run weather station said.
Plans included lifting it into a barge once it is extricated from the coral reefs where it got stuck.
Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya confirmed there was no oil leak from the USS Guardian, but he sent more divers to the site to continue getting water sample from the area where the ship ran aground.
The fuel tank of USS Guardian remained intact, said Abaya, who quoted US Navy sources.
Earlier, the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) sent a notice to the US Navy for payment of fines for illegal entry, but excluded payment for damaged coral reefs.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda also estimated that 1,000 square metre of damaged coral reefs were destroyed by the USS Guardian.
Activists and lawmakers remained angry at the incident, despite apologies issued by the US Navy. A senator called for a full investigation.
They wanted answers to queries such as why the USS Guardian entered the protected marine sanctuary without asking for permission from TPAMB; why the ship’s captain did not heed warnings from park rangers as the ship got near the reefs; and why park rangers were prevented from boarding the warship when it ran aground on the coral reefs.
Tubbataha Reefs is a World Heritage-listed marine park.