THE salvage team tasked to extract the USS Guardian that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef on January 17 said on Saturday that it had removed the last remaining piece of the ship from the area.
Task Force Tubbataha chief Enrico Efren Evangelista said the stern, which was the fourth and final section of the ship’s wooden hull, has already been cut and lifted from the protected marine sanctuary.
But he said that the salvaging operations was not yet finished as the salvage team led by ship-borne crane Jascon 25 would still have to conduct a clean-up operation on the area.
“The salvors would still have to clean up and remove the debris from the vessel. The clean-up may last until April 2,” Evangelista said.
The hull was cut in four sections -- bow, auxiliary, main machine, and stern section.
Evangelista said they placed holes on the hull for the cables used in the lifting of the watertight part of the ship.
Philippine and the United States authorities opted to work during the Holy Week break in order to speed up the extraction of the 68-meter long minesweeper from the reef.
Aside from hull, the US-commissioned Jascon 25 and other salvor ships removed the funnel, engine, mast, sonar, communication equipment and bridge of the USS Guardian.
Balilo said the salvage team was composed of Jascon-25, SMIT Borneo crane barge, USNS Salvor, USNS Safeguard, USNS Wally Schirra, M/Tug Archon Tide, M/Tug Intrepid, M/Tug Trabajador-1 and Barge S-7000 of the Malayan Towage and Coast Guard vessel BRP-Romblon.
Jascon 25 lifted and placed the dismantled parts of the ship into the Archon Tide, which would then sail away from the atoll and transfer the extracted sections of the US ship to the waiting bS-7,000 barge via the second crane ship SMIT Borneo.
The ship crane was positioned some 30 meters away from the site, while the SMIT Borneo was situated at about 500 meters away. The debris was placed inside a container van that was loaded on board the S-7,000 that would bring it to a US facility in Japan.
The US navy chose to dismantle the ship instead of lifting it, saying that this will cause no further damage from the reef.
After cleaning the site, the Task Force would conduct a joint assessment at the site in coordination with the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board, US marine biologists, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, University of the Philippines, Department of Science and Technology and the Tubbataha Management Office.
A US marine biologist initially estimated that 4,000 square meters were destroyed in Tubbataha Reef since the USS Guardian crashed into it on Jan. 17.
Based on Philippine laws, the United States should pay the country $300 for every square centimeters of reef damaged by the USS Guardian.
The United States apologized for the incident, saying a faulty map was to be blamed.
The US government had promised to compensate for the damages on the reef. It also offered a rehabilitation plan after the ship is completely removed from the reef.