MANILA, Philippines - A US drone is assisting in preparations for the safe removal of the USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef in Palawan.
The four-engine turboprop P-3 Orion is designed for anti-submarine operations and for use as a maritime surveillance plane.
The Guardian is now sitting parallel to the South Atoll in Tubbataha.
After being de-fueled, the minesweeper had 15,000 liters of seawater pumped into its fuel tank to stabilize it. The Guardian was also stripped of ordnance and armaments.
Informed sources said actual operation in Tubbataha may begin first week of next month as two Singapore-based salvage tugs contracted to lift the Guardian are due to arrive on Feb. 1.
Sixty-eight US sailors at the Guardian have been sent back to their homeport in Sasebo Japan, according to the US embassy.
A US Navy-led salvage team has removed the bulk of fuel oil and materials from the Guardian, the embassy added.
US Navy ship salvage and maritime architecture experts are developing a salvage plan and will perform work to reinforce the structure of the ship.
Malaysian tug Vos Apollo arrived in the area for the de-fueling, while a US Navy small boat approached with a salvage team.
The Guardian’s commanding officer and other technical experts remain on-scene to work with the recovery team, in coordination with the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy and local environmental agencies.
Malacañang said yesterday US authorities are cooperating in the investigation into the damage caused in Tubbataha Reef.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the fines to be imposed against the US for the damage in the reef were in accordance with law.
“But that is a legislative discretion,” he said. “We would have to rely on the records, the legislative journals as to why the amount was pegged at that amount.”
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said port visits of US vessels will continue despite the grounding of the Guardian in Tubbataha Reef.
“If a request for port call is filed, as long as there is nothing unusual with the port call, we do accept port calls,” he said.
Gazmin said the subsequent port visits of foreign ships have nothing to do with the grounding of the Guardian.
“As you very well know, the captain (attributed the incident to) faulty chart. How do we address that?” he said.
Armed Forces spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said the incident won’t affect the conduct of exercises with the US.
“Nobody wanted that incident to happen,” he said.
The military is already planning for the next Balikatan exercises between US and Filipino troops this year, Burgos said.
Activists failed to pelt paint at the US embassy during a lightning rally in Manila yesterday morning.
Police stopped about 50 activists from the League of Filipino Students, Makabayan and Kabataan party-list from going near the embassy.
Police said the activists only reached as far as the corner of Roxas Boulevard and Padre Faura Street, where they converged at around 6:47 a.m.
Police dispersed the rallyists at around 7:21 a.m., or after less than an hour. No one was hurt during the dispersal.
Early morning traffic at a portion of Roxas Boulevard was disrupted during the rally.
Police said the activists tried to throw paint on the “US Embassy” sign at the gate, but were pushed back.
A clash between protesters and police caused heavy traffic at a portion of the boulevard.
During the rally, activists called for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
They also held the US accountable for the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17.
Last Friday, activists threw paint on the embassy sign at the gate during a lightning rally.
At the time, only three policemen were guarding the embassy. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Aurea Calica, Alexis Romero, Sandy Araneta