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Removal of Grounded USS Guardian to Take Weeks, Further Threatening Pristine Coral Reef

Thousands of gallons of fuel must be siphoned amidst huge sea swells

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Rescue is weeks away for the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian, which ran aground on a pristine World Heritage-listed coral reef off the Philippine coast last week after ignoring warnings. The ship is reportedly taking on water, and 15,000 gallons of fuel must first be removed before it is lifted out of the water, the Navy said on Thursday.

Philippine protesters accuse the US of negligence which has caused the destruction of a "national treasure." (Photo via kalikasan) According to Rear Adm. Tom Carney, the operation could take as long as two weeks, further threatening the Tubbataha National Marine Park famous for its rich marine life and coral that rivals Australia's Great Barrier Reef, of which over 1,000 square meters have already been substantially damaged since the Navy ship smashed into the site on January 17. 

Military publication Stars and Stripes reports:

During a news conference with Philippine military representatives in Palawan, Carney acknowledged that the 224-foot Guardian has moved significantly in the surf on Tubbataha Reef, a World Heritage Site; had been badly damaged with several breaches in the hull, had taken on a “significant” amount of water and now lay 20-30 yards from the edge of the reef with a 10-degree list.

“[The Guardian] will have to be lifted off onto another ship or barge to leave the area,” Carney said. “Right now, the ship could not maneuver on its own and is not operational… The ship is too badly damaged [to be towed] unfortunately.”

Carney added that before the USS Guardian can be removed, about 56,000 liters (15,000 gallons) of fuel will need be siphoned off "to avoid spills."

Thus far, efforts to remove the fuel have been hampered by rough waters, which have battered the ship repeatedly causing further damage to the marine sanctuary. Another attempt to pump the fuel was made Thursday, AP reports.

“At this moment USS Guardian is stuck atop Tubbataha Reef and continues to wreck our national treasure. The US officials until now offer no clear explanation as to why their ship trespassed into the marine sanctuary,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator for environmental network Kalikasan.

According to UNESCO, the marine sanctuary is a "unique example of an atoll reef with a very high density of marine species" which also serves as a nesting site for birds and marine turtles.

Agence France Presse reports:

The incident has stoked anger in the Philippines, with the US Navy yet to explain why it was sailing through a protected marine sanctuary en route to Indonesia.

The head of the agency supervising the sanctuary said this week that the captain of the ship ignored warnings that it was nearing the reef. The agency recommended the US Navy be fined for "unauthorised entry" into the area.

Carney declined to explain why the Guardian was sailing in the area, saying that was still the subject of investigation.

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