USS Guardian 'ignored' warnings it was nearing reef—Tubbataha Management Office

The US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian, which ran aground Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on Thursday, was warned it was nearing a protected area but ignored the warnings, the Tubbataha Management Office said Monday. The crew also told TMO's marine rangers to direct its communications to the US Embassy.

Angelique Songco, superintendent of the TMO, said marine rangers could not communicate with the crew of the USS Guardian moments before it got grounded in the area last Thursday.

"'Yung masama, hindi sila nagko-communicate. Tinawagan nila (rangers) at sinabi nila sila ay patungo roon. Ang sabi (ng taga) USS Guardian, kausapin ang embahada, ang embahada ang kausapin sa bagay na yan. (Kaya) hindi nila nakausap ang mga nasa bapor," Songco said in an interview on dzBB radio.

She also said the rangers were about to follow protocol of boarding the vessel to check if it had the proper permit, but saw the minesweeper's crewmembers were in "battle position."

When asked if the rangers warned the USS Guardian's crew they were nearing a protected reef, she said yes. She also said her marine park rangers had introduced themselves.

Despite these, she said the USS Guardian's crew would refer all communications to the US Embassy.

"Tapos nakita na lang nila grounded ang vessel, hindi na makakaalis 'yan," she said.

Unsafe

Songco said there is already damage to the reef even if the vessel has not yet been removed.

But she also said it was unsafe to send divers to the area at this time.

Also, she said they have yet to determine the fines stemming from the grounding, but said the priority is to remove the vessel from the reef.

"Ang unang gusto gawin talaga, alisin ang bapor," she said.

Big waves

Songco also said that while many US experts had arrived at the scene, they are helpless because of the big waves.

"They are trying. Dami ng expert. 'Di sila makakakilos dahil napakalaki ng alon," she said. Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Scott H. Swift, commander of the US 7th Fleet, said he regretted the grounding of the USS Guardian, one of the fleet's minesweepers, on Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “As a protector of the sea and a sailor myself, I greatly regret any damage this incident has caused to the Tubbataha Reef,” said Swift in a news release posted on the US 7th Fleet website.

—KG, GMA News

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