The US Navy is set to begin pumping thousands of liters of oil from the USS Guardian ship, which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines last week. The minesweeper already destroyed part of the 97,000-hectare-wide World Heritage-listed marine park in the Sulu Sea south-east of Palawan island, and the ship is said to be too damaged to simply be towed away.

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The US Guardian crashed into the Tubbataha Reef January 17 while returning to Indonesia after a refueling stop in a former American naval base west of Manilla. So far, there have been no reports of fuel leakage from the ship, but reports noted that around 1,000 square meters of corals had been severely damaged because of the incident.

The cause of the grounding is still under investigation. The US Navy has reported that 72 of 79 crew members were safely evacuated, with no reports of injuries. Remaining crew members will also be transferred if the conditions became unsafe.

“The option that we hoped to be able to tow the ship off the reef is not available,” said Carney, who heads the US Navy’s logistics group in the western Pacific. “It’s too badly damaged. It’s got hull penetrations in several places, and there’s a significant amount of water inside the ship right now,” he added.

With no possibility of towing the ship off the reef without causing further damage, the US Navy will try to remove the 57.000 liters (15.000 US gallons) of fuel. Two more US Navy ships will sail to Tubbataha Reef and take part in the extraction.

“It depends on the environmental conditions out there as to how safely we can proceed,” said Carney. Divers have been sent on board to inspect the ship’s condition and remove equipment, making the ship light enough to be lifted.


Photos by Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)