Tubbataha sets April timetable

Task Force Tubbataha targets removal of USS Guardian by April 9 Coast Guard commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said on Thursday.

“The timetable is April but it will depend on sea and weather condition in the area,” he said.

Isorena said Smit Borneo, a US government-commissioned crane barge, will remove piece by piece the 68-meter long minesweeper which ran aground Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17 off Palawan coast.

“They would be starting operation by Sunday or Monday… if the weather will cooperate,” he said.

President Benigno Aquino III earlier reviewed the salvage plan proposed by the US government even as operations are being rushed to contain the damage at the UNESCO World Heritage Site which has spread to more than 4,000 square meters of coral bed, according to marine biologists.

“It was presented to him by Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya and he has approved it as presented and with no revisions,” Presidential Communications Development Secretary Ricky Carandang said Thursday.

“We were assured that among their priorities is to have no further damage to the Tubbataha Reef,” Abaya said.

Smit Borne, a 110-meter x 32-meter barge with pedestal crane, secondary tracked crane and accommodation, arrived at the site Tuesday evening some 1,000 meters away from the damaged reef.

Task Force chief Enrico Efren Evangelista said the plan was also reviewed by the Tubbataha Protected Areas Management Board and other agencies.

The USS Guardian was sailing for Indonesia from its last port call in Subic Bay in Zambales when it got stuck on shallow waters in Tubbataha.

The Philippine Coast Guard has formed a Maritime Casualty Investigation Team “to gather the physical and documentary evidence needed to establish the circumstances and causes on how the US Navy vessel strayed into the protected area” despite ample warning by park rangers” Abaya said.

The US Navy is doing a parallel investigation given the present US maritime ship prepositioning capability in the West Pacific zone.

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