Palace: USS Guardian damaged 1,000 sqm of protected reef-A A +A
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
MANILA (Updated) -- The United States Navy minesweeper USS Guardian that ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last week has damaged around 1,000 square meters of the protected marine area, Malacañang said Wednesday.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda made the announcement based on the initial assessment conducted by the US Navy and the joint Task Force Tubbataha headed by Department of Transportation and Communications Undersecretary Eduardo Oban Jr.
"Under the Republic Act 10067, the Tubbataha Reef National Park Law, the entire area of Tubbataha Reef is 97,030 square meters. So the damage, based on the initial dive, was approximately 1,000 square meters," Lacierda said.
He said while the damage is seen as minimal, it is still important since the Tubbataha Reef is a World Heritage site.
"It's a damage to a world heritage site. It's a damage to our natural resource. It's a damage to an important site. We cannot but emphasize on the importance of this reef as a heritage site," he said.
Lacierda said the Philippine government remains firm in pressing US for fines for the damage it caused on the protected reef.
However, he said the focus of the Coast Guard right now is to extricate the ship first so that another assessment could be made as to the actual extent of the damage.
"We're trying to take away the ship. We're trying to make sure that the first and the paramount responsibility right now of the task force is to take away the ship. This (does) not mean that we are minimizing or reluctant to press our claim. I spoke with (Foreign Affairs) Secretary Albert del Rosario last Monday and we are determined to press our claim," he said.
Lacierda, meanwhile, said that there was "severe" damage to the rudder and the propeller of the USS Guardian.
The US Navy and the Philippine task force are fine tuning plans on how to best salvage the ship without causing more damage to the reef.
In the Senate, Senator Loren Legarda filed a resolution Monday seeking to investigate the grounding of a US minesweeper in the Tubbataha Reefs and know the extent of damage arising from last week's incident.
Under Senate Resolution 928 released to media on Wednesday, Legarda said the planned probe by the committee on foreign relations she chairs will help strengthen existing mechanisms to prevent similar incidents in the future.
The US Navy, which is operating the ship supposedly bound for Indonesia after a port call in Subic, is already mapping out plans how to get the 68-meter vessel out of the reef. It had also apologized for the incident, blaming a faulty navigation system that allegedly misplaced the reef on its map.
"This incident highlights the need to ensure full protection of the Philippines' marine resources by all vessels, foreign or domestic, within territorial waters amidst geo-political developments in the region," said Legarda.
The Tubbataha management office earlier said the ship entered the protected area without permission and failed to coordinate with environmental officials. (Jill Beltran/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)