MANILA, Philippines - The World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines believes leaving the grounded USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef may be a better idea than salvaging the wreck.
WWF-Philippines President Lory Tan, who is also a member of the Tubbataha Management Board, said this may be a better option considering the damage extended salvage operations may pose on the site.
“This is a ticking taxi meter and with every wave, every hour, the damage will increase. I believe personally believe that they cannot anchor, that we cannot make exceptions just to allow them to take the boat out,” he told ANC’s Headstart.
Asked if the US Navy should just abandon the ship in Tubbataha, he said: “That’s one of the options I have suggested. If it’s going to take them 8 weeks more, 10 weeks more, it is going to abut to the peak tourism season in Tubbataha. It is going to create all this junk and gunk in the ocean. It may expose the salvage ships to rough weather. It might create another problem and it is going to be very expensive.”
Tan said salvaging the ship is not an easy operation because it requires clinical precision and substantial costs to ensure the protection of the marine reserve.
“They want to put a net to keep all the junk that’s coming off the retrieval when they cut up the boat in one spot so the damage does not scatter. But you have turtles, large sharks and they'll get snagged in those nets so you cannot just say ‘Oh, this is our SOP in Singapore, to put a net.’ This is a World Heritage site. They have to know that if you get into trouble in a natural park, it will cost you a lot more and you cannot use business-as-usual technology.”
The USS Guardian became grounded on the Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in a remote part of the Sulu Sea, on January 17. Officials said damage to the reef covered 4,000 square meters.
The US Navy had previously said the boat, which has a wood and fiberglass hull, was too badly damaged to be towed away. US Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander James Stockman said US authorities will dismantle the 224-foot ship to ensure that the reef will not be further damaged.
Thousands of liters 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.
"It will cause more damage the longer it is left there," she said.
The US Navy has repeatedly apologized 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