MANILA, Philippines --- United States Navy (USN) and contracted salvage personnel started to dismantle and remove the hull of Ex-Guardian (MCM-5), 69 days after it ran aground in the Tubbataha reef.
A USN report said that as of Wednesday, the contracted crane vessel MV Jascon 25 had lifted and removed the first large hull section weighing about 250 tons.
"The bow section was safely lifted and removed from Tubbataha Reef to an awaiting barge," according to the report posted on the Pacific Fleet website.
This development signals the near completion of the salvage work for the $227-million countermeasures ship.
Capt. Mark Matthews, the salvage supervisor, said the lifting of the first large hull section was a significant accomplishment.
The remaining three sections are expected to be removed over the coming days as weather and safety permits. The hull cutting is being done manually.
Matthews said preparing the ship for sectioning has been "extremely challenging" as they had to "painstakingly clear about a two foot path inside the ship removing everything that is in our way."
"Once the path is clear, the hull cutting is done manually by Navy divers and salvage contractors using chainsaws and reciprocating saws, and some of this cutting is underwater using hydraulically driven tools," he added.
Matthews said, "We continue to work closely with the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy, and Tubbataha Reef Park Rangers, and we are grateful for the support and advice we have received to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef."
Aside from the Jascon 25, other vessels on scene supporting the salvage operation are the USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), the SMIT Borneo, the Trabajador, the Intrepid and the Archon Tide.
The USN declared the vessel a complete loss two weeks after it hit a coral reef at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea and that they are left with no option but to dismantle the Avenger-class minesweeper.
Since the Guardian's grounding, the USN has been working meticulously to salvage any reusable equipment and remove any potentially harmful materials including petroleum-based products and human wastewater.
The USN stressed no fuel has leaked since the grounding and all of the approximately 15,000 gallons aboard Guardian were safely transferred off the ship.