The USS Guardian , an Avenger Class Mine Countermeasures ship, ran aground on a coral reef in the Sulu Sea in the early morning of Jan. 17. The ship remains aground in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1993. Poor weather forced the ship's crew to abandon ship and the vessel remains unmanned at this time.
Ships from the Philippine Coast Guard and Navy responded to the initial grounding . The Philippine Coast Guard also dispatched BRP-Corregidor, its marine environmental protection vessel, to the scene. The ships and their crews assisted in the evacuation of the 80 U.S. Navy sailors aboard the Guardian.
Strong winds and choppy seas have prevented any re-boarding of the ship to assess damages. The Philippine Information Agency reports that there has been no fuel leak . Local officials are concerned that salvage operations may damage further damage the reef. The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board is filing charges against the U.S. Navy for the ship's entry into restricted waters and the damages done by the grounding. Fines are expected to be levied, but the amounts remain to be determined.
U.S. Navy Response
Rear Adm. Thomas Carney has been sent to act as on-scene commander. He will be operating off the USS Mustin , one of several U.S. Navy ships that have been sent to the grounding. Efforts are under way to prevent any additional damage to the reef. At this time, weather reports suggest wave heights in the Sulu Sea of 3 to 6 feet and an increasing threat of monsoon winds as the weekend draws closer.
The U.S. Navy will be conducting a complete investigation into the reason that the USS Guardian was in the park and the reason that it ran aground. A grounding usually signals the end of the career for the captain of the vessel, regardless of the outcome. Other officers and crew could be considered for disciplinary actions depending upon the results of the investigation.
The USS Guardian was commissioned in 1989. As a mine countermeasures ship , it is constructed with a wood hull laminated with fiberglass as a defense against magnetic mines. The composition of the hull may prove less damaging to the reef than a steel hull but the actual damage remains to be seen. Ships such as the Guardian are designed to operate in shallow, coastal waters, and carry sonar aids for those conditions. The USS Guardian is one of several Navy ships that are forward deployed to Sasebo, Japan.
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