PH assures fines over Tubbataha damage

By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 04 2013 03:40 PM | Updated as of Feb 04 2013 11:40 PM

MANILA - Malacañang said the Philippine government will still impose fines and ask for compensation from the United States government over the damage of Tubbataha Reef even if it has given assistance for coral restoration efforts.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said a final assessment of the damage will be done after the USS Guardian is extricated.

“That’s not compensation, that’s assistance. We still have to determine the amount of fines that are going to be imposed based on a final assessment on the damage caused to the reef and that has not been done yet,” Lacierda said.

“They’re going to do that over and above the fines that we are going to impose based on the law that we have in place. And certainly we have seen their commitment to preserving the reef as part of their ongoing efforts, previous efforts, and certainly these are acknowledgments of the importance of the richness of the biodiversity that is found in Tubbataha Reef.”

The Guardian became grounded on the Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in a remote part of the Sulu Sea, on January 17.

The badly damaged minesweeper will need to be dismantled before it is removed.

The US Navy had previously said the boat, which has a wood and fibreglass hull, was too badly damaged to be towed away.

Thousands of litres of oil on board the Guardian have been removed but the vessel is being battered by huge waves, causing it to gouge a destructive trail along the reef, according to superintendent of the Tubbataha marine park Angelique Songco.

She said dismantling the ship would further damage the reef but letting it remain there longer would lead to even more harm.

The US Navy has repeatedly apologised for the incident but has refused to explain publicly why the Guardian was sailing so close to the reef.

This has fueled anger over the incident in the Philippines, a former American colony and important US ally in the Asia-Pacific region.

Vessels sailing into the marine park need permission, but Philippine authorities said the crew of the Guardian had made no request to enter and had even ignored radio messages from government rangers that it was about to hit the reef. -- with Agence France-Presse