Philippines to ask US to pay for damages in Tubbataha Reef-A A +A
Monday, January 21, 2013
THE Philippine said Monday that it will file damage claims against the United States for the destruction its minesweeper USS Guardian has caused in the Tubbataha Reef, which is a World Heritage Site.
In a press briefing in Malacanang, Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said that under the law, the Philippine government could claim for damages incurred when the Guardian ran aground on the reef in Sulu Sea last Thursday.
"Yes. I assume it's clearly in the Tubbataha Law. It's incumbent (upon) our government to file for such claim," Abaya said.
He said while the government is still coordinating with the US Navy regarding the incident, it is deemed proper that the US will pay for the damages it caused in Tubbataha.
"As a responsible nation and state and a strong ally of the Philippines, I assume it goes without saying," he said.
The USS Guardian just came from a port call in Subic Bay and was reportedly on its way to Indonesia when it ran aground the Tubbataha Reef, which is considered restricted area. The grounded ship allegedly damaged at least 10 meters of the reef.
Abaya said President Benigno Aquino III expressed his concern over the incident and ordered concerned agencies to address the issue.
"He (Aquino) is mindful of that national treasure that we have—the very asset of the Tubbataha Reef—and he wanted to make sure that we would be proactive on this; we minimize damage," he said.
"We should have close coordination with the Americans that we shouldn't just allow them to conduct their salvage operations on their own. The plan should be vetted, the plan should be concurred in, and likewise to keep him informed and the public informed," he added.
He likewise said the Philippine Coast Guard has formed a fact-finding body to investigate the real reason why the US vessel was in Tubbataha.
The US Navy earlier said that faulty navigational maps had caused the ship to run aground. Several groups refused to accept US explanation citing the ship's supposed advanced sonar equipment.
"I take it as face value. We weren't aboard the vessel. Probably they’ve really encountered such problem. But it is best if we verify these stories too and establish our own facts," said Abaya.
The US Navy has been undertaking its own investigation to determine the exact cause of the grounding.
Abaya said the Coast Guard task force will also serve as liaison to the US Navy for the salvage operations and in preparation for the maritime environmental protection.
"Once the ship is pulled out, then assessing the damage to the reef or whatever damage to certain species or habitats or breeding areas will likewise be done. DENR should play a key role here, this would be more of its forte, and from there probably claims would then follow," he said adding that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police will also be joining the task force.
Abaya said one way to extricate the grounded ship is to bring in a heavy-lifting ship, which has a 1,000-ton capacity crane that could lift vessel onboard another ship.
Asked if US Navy ship's captain should be relieved over the incident, he replied: "Well, based on what I know from the Navy—even from our Navy—grounding of a vessel is a mortal sin. It could destroy careers. A prominent naval captain with a promising career, once you grounded your vessel even touch bottom not necessarily causing damage, just the fact that you allow it to touch ground is a mortal sin and could spell the difference from a promising career and a termination of a career. I could expect they'll come hard on their commanding officer." (Jill Beltran/Sunnex)