Stormy weather in the Sulu Sea has once again slowed salvage operation on the wreck of the USS Guardian. The mine countermeasures ship ran aground on Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17. The reef is a Philippine national park and World Heritage Site. The ship's crew was successfully evacuated and salvage ships rushed to the area. The sensitive nature of the reef and periodic bad weather has forced the piecemeal dismantlement of the ship and the use of a crane to lift the pieces away from the reef.
Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista is leading the response by the Philippine Coast Guard . He states that operations are set to resume on a 24/7 basis as soon as weather permits. Current sea states of waves of more than six feet and winds of 25 knots have forced a temporary halt to operations. He regards the safety of the salvage workers as paramount. He notes that lighting has been requested for the wreck so that dismantlement can be done at night. Tubbataha Reefs National Park has closed two of its 15 dive sites due to the wreck and the salvage activity.
U.S. Navy Response
The Navy has contracted with commercial salvage experts for the removal of the USS Guardian from the reef. After extensive planning and in consultation with the Philippine authorities, the decision was made to cut the ship into pieces and use a large crane to lift those pieces off the reef and onto a ship. Navy sailors from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One are also working aboard the wreck. Prior to the recent heavy weather, the funnel, the 16-ton winch and the radio mast had been removed. The superstructure is currently being unbolted and cut free for removal. It is hoped that the ship will be entirely gone from the reef by March 23.
The USS Guardian was decommissioned in a ceremony Wednesday at Naval Base Sasebo, Japan. Its 79-person crew participated in the ceremony. The ship had been in service for 23 years. It was forward deployed to Japan in 1996. The ship's hull was wood and fiberglass. Its mission was to search for and destroy mines which posed a threat to the Navy and commercial shipping. Guardian is being replaced by the USS Warrior (MCM 10), which is currently being transported to Japan. Guardian is believed to have cost about $277 million when it was built, one of 14 of its class . The Avenger Class minesweepers are no longer being built.