Written by DIVE Magazine Friday, 18 January 2013 10:08
The ship ran aground on Thursday while in transit through the Tubbataha National Marine Park, a coral sanctuary in the Sulu Sea, 640 kilometres (400 miles) southwest of Manila. There were no injuries or oil leaks, and Philippine authorities were trying to evaluate damage to the protected coral reef, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said 72 of the 79 crew of the USS Guardian were transferred to a military support vessel by small boat. A small team of personnel will remain aboard and attempt to free the ship with minimal environmental impact, the statement said. The remaining seven sailors, including the commanding and the executive officer, will also be transferred if conditions become unsafe.
The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines said that according to an initial visual inspection, the 68m-long, 1,300-ton Guardian damaged at least 10m of the reef. Aerial photographs provided by the Philippine military showed the ship’s bow sitting atop corals in shallow waters. The stern was floating in the blue. The Navy said the cause of the grounding, which took place around 2 am Thursday, was under investigation.
Angelique Songco, head of the government’s Protected Area Management Board, said it was unclear how much of the reef was damaged. She said the government imposes a fine of about $300 per square metre of damaged coral.
In 2005, the environmental group Greenpeace was fined almost $7,000 after its flagship struck a reef in the same area.