Sections of the USS Guardian lifted off Tubbataha

Two sections of the USS Guardian were lifted off the reef this week. The bow section and Auxiliary Machinery Room (AMR) of the grounded vessel were successfully removed on March 26 and 27, respectively. After almost two months of operations, the salvage work on the USS Guardian is now in its final stage.

Earlier this month the Singaporean salvage team cleared and drilled the hull in preparation for chopping and lifting. As planned, it is being cut into four sections – the bow, the AMR, the Main Machinery Room (MMR), and the stern.

The cutting work and inspection of machinery spaces will continue during Holy Week. The weather is no longer hindering operations and if calm sea conditions continue, it is expected that the entire boat will be lifted off the reefs by 1 April 2013.

The Tubbataha Management Office is now planning the assessment of the damaged reef that will follow the removal of the wrecked USS Guardian from Tubbataha. The Executive Committee of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board met yesterday to discuss the proposed assessment method to be used is measuring the actual coral damage in Tubbataha.

Salvage team prepares to dismantle USS Guardian hull

USS Guardian now being prepared for cutting anytime this week. (Photo: Philippine Coast Guard)

The salvage team working on the USS Guardian are now preparing to chop up the ship’s hull.

Last week the propulsion diesel engines, ship service diesel generators and gas turbine generator were removed from the US minesweeper and transferred a barge that will bring the wreck to Sasebo in Japan upon completion of the salvage operation.

The ship is now being cleared of any loose material in preparation for the dismantling of its hull, which according to the Philippine Coast Guard will take at least six days. It is important that weather conditions remain stable to prevent the hull from becoming unstable and further damaging the reef.

Last weekend the three-month dive season began with the arrival of three of the nine dive boats operating in Tubbataha this year. The head of Task Force Tubbataha, Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista of the Philippine Coast Guard, warned operators to keep divers away from the 500-metre safety zone around the salvage scene.

Salvage operation continues as dive season in Tubbataha begins

Jascon 25 lifts the second level section off the USS Guardian on March 2, 2013. (Photo: US 7th Fleet Public Affairs)

05 March 2013 — Salvaging the USS Guardian is progressing with the funnel and mast cut early last week and the bridge deck lifted on March 2.

Dismantling operations continue this week as the salvage team prepares the Level 1 section to be lifted off the US minesweeper.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, which heads Task Force Tubbataha, the completion deadline of March 23 could still be extended. The team is considering possible challenges in dismantling the ship, as well as the changing weather.

The Tubbataha Management Office is now preparing for the three-month dive season, which will begin on March 8 with the arrival of M/V Philippine Siren, one of the nine dive boats that will be operating in Tubbataha this year.

The grounded USS Guardian will affect dive tourists as two of the park’s fifteen dive sites are off limits. The Philippine Coast Guard has not yet announced the safe distance at which dive boats can navigate around the salvage zone.

Last year Tubbataha Reefs was ranked eighth in the world’s top dive destinations by CNN.Go travel website and was hailed a conservation model for the coral triangle by international coral reefs experts.

Major progress in salvaging USS Guardian

Left: The USS Guardian on January 25, a week after it ran aground on Tubbataha Reefs, Right: The USS Guardian on February 27, one week into the salvage operation.

1 March 2013 — Good weather this week has allowed significant progress to be made in salvaging the USS Guardian, which has been grounded on Tubbataha Reefs since January 17, 2013.

On February 27, the weather deck of the US Navy minesweeper was completely cleared. Other accomplishments include dismantling the funnel and mast, and removing navigational equipment and controls.

The salvage team is now working on the second level of the US minesweeper and will then conduct diving operations to inspect the submerged section of its hull.

The Philippine Coast Guard, which heads Task Force Tubbataha, plans to complete the salvage operation by March 23.

Removal of USS Guardian now underway

Crane vessel Jascon 25 has almost completed clearing the upper deck of the USS Guardian in preparation for the ship’s hull to be cut into sections. (Photo taken on 25 February 2013 by TMO/Jeffrey David)

25 FEBURARY 2013 — On February 23, operations began to remove grounded US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian off Tubbataha Reefs.

The salvor team began by removing structures and loose equipment such as cable reels, part of the ship’s mast, mine countermeasure equipment and about 80% of materials from the fantail.

Rough seas hit the reefs on February 24, hampering salvage operations yet again.

Today, February 25, equipment removed from USS Guardian will be transferred to Barge S-7000, towed by Malaysian salvage vessel Trabajador 1. The US Navy has yet to specify what should be done with the wreck of the USS Guardian.

Today the salvage team will continue to clear the ship’s upper deck. Removal of the mast and funnel should take place by Thursday.

It is planned that main hull will be cut in to three sections. According to US Navy authorities, the area that contains grey water tanks will be removed first. These tanks are said to be less than 50% full but could not be removed as planned during early operations, as the lower sections of the USS Guardian were flooded.

A retention fence will be installed around the USS Guardian before its hull is cut into sections.

The stricken US minesweeper has not moved from its previous position and has caused no additional damage to the reef despite the rough weather caused by storm ‘Crising’ early last week.

Jascon 25 prepares to salvage USS Guardian

22 FEBRUARY 2913 — As weather in Tubbataha continues to improve, the main savage vessel, Jascon 25, is preparing its digital geographic positioning system (DGPS) to begin operations.

Jascon 25 is powered by a dynamic positioning system (DPS) which enables it to remain at a fixed location automatically. DPS also means that the boat can manoeuvre, track and perform other specialist positioning with precision.

Yesterday, February 21, a short window of calmer seas allowed the US Navy to position five salvor vessels in the vicinity of the USS Guardian, which has been grounded on the reef for five weeks.

Jascon 25 attempted to plot the location USS Guardian in their positioning system using a rigid hull inflatable boat to serves as reference point. This initial step of plotting location and ensuring accuracy of the DGPS is crucial as Jascon 25 has to maintain the safe 10-meter distance from the reef during the entire salvage operation.

SMIT Borneo and US Navy salvors plan to board the USS Guardian at the next safe opportunity to install Dynamic Positioning transponders. This will provide a duplicate system in case one component of the DGPS on Jascon 25 fails.

The team will also position salvage support equipment on board the USS Guardian and conduct a damage assessment. They will then install a retention fence to contain the vessel’s components to a limited area on the reef.

Salvage operations further delayed by storm ‘Crising’

21 FEBRUARY 2013 — It has been almost a week since the crane ship Jascon 25 arrived in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park to salvage the USS Guardian, yet due to adverse weather conditions operations have still not begun.

On February 20, the low pressure area caused by the storm ‘Crising’ brought poor visibility and 28-30 knot winds. Despite fierce waves, the stricken US navy ship still sits firmly on the reef since its rudders and shaft are embedded on the corals and seabed.

Once salvage operations commence, equipment from the USS Guardian superstructure and weather deck such as the main mast, funnel and the cable reel on the fantail will be the first to be removed. The main salvage vessel, Jascon 25, will maintain a 10-meter distance from the edge of the reef during the operation.

The other crane vessel Smit Borneo, which is carrying additional salvage equipment, is currently in Puerto Princesa port and expected to be in Tubbataha within this week.

The salvor team in Tubbataha have recently reported improved weather and sea conditions. They hope to proceed with salvage operations soon.

Salvage operation battles weather

18 FEBRUARY 2013 – Salvage operations for the USS Guardian have been further delayed as bad weather continues to threaten the safety of personnel and equipment in the Tubbataha Reefs.

Jascon 25, the crane vessel which will lift the USS Guardian piecemeal off the reef, arrived on February 16 but rough seas have prevented it from starting work.

Last weekend, as the weather in the park worsened, US Navy and Task Force Tubbataha officials decided that Smit Borneo and Jascon 25 should sail to Puerto Princesa City, where calmer sea conditions would allow the safe transfer of equipment and personnel from one vessel to the other. This took place after the Jascon 25 was inspected by the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine team in Puerto Princesa City.

Jascon 25 and Smit Borneo arrived in Puerto Princesa port yesterday, February 17 and are scheduled to return to the Tubbataha Reefs today.

The revised salvage plan was presented to the Philippine Coast Guard and the Tubbataha Management Office last week. According to the new plan, weather permitting, the whole operation is now expected to be completed two weeks earlier, by March 23.

Revised salvage plan on review

12 FEBRUARY 2013 — On February 11, 2013 the US Navy submitted a revised salvage plan which now takes into account the central role of the Jascon 25 in salvor operations for the USS Guardian, the US warship that has been stuck on Tubbataha Reefs for almost a month. The plan is under review and awaits approval by the Philippine Coast Guard.

Jascon 25, a pipelay crane vessel that can remain at a fixed point without anchoring, will be positioned next to the reefs, close to the grounded vessel. The dynamic crane on Jascon 25 will then be used to lift sections of the USS Guardian hull and deckhouse off the reef. This major operation requires working at a close distance to the reef, only possible with a vessel such as the Jascon 25. The wreck will then be loaded to another crane ship, Smit Borneo, which is anchored at a distance from the grounding site.

The operation is planned begin as soon as Jascon 25 arrives in Tubbataha Reefs on February 15. Officials are hoping for an improvement in the weather to allow implementation of the plan.

Unfavourable sea conditions continue to hamper on site operations. While they await better weather and the arrival of the Jascon 25, the salvor team and Philippine counterparts are working together to transfer moveable inventory out of the wreck of the USS Guardian.

Salvage operations on hold for USS Guardian

11 FEBRUARY 2013 — Salvage operations for the USS Guardian failed to begin as planned on February 10 due to rough sea conditions. The plan involves chopping up US warship stuck on the reef and lifting it off piecemeal by a crane ship, the Smit Borneo.

Operations should have commenced soon after the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board approved the salvage plan, submitted by the US Navy. But the Smit Borneo struggled to anchor, attaching only one of the four proposed anchors successfully.

Officials in charge of the operation were aware of the technical difficulties and were keen to prevent further damage to the reefs. They therefore decided to pause operations and wait for a bigger crane ship Jascon 25, which left Singapore on February 9 and is expected to arrive in Tubbataha on February 15.

Jascon 25 is a pipelay construction vessel with a large main deck and crane. Unlike Smit Borneo, it can hold position without anchoring, which is advantageous given the rough weather conditions Tubbataha is experiencing.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, it is expected that the salvage plan will be reviewed and revised to take into account the new crane ship.

Salvage operation sets out in Tubbataha

8 FEBRUARY 2013 — The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) endorsed last 5 February 2013 the plan for the salvage of the USS Guardian which was submitted by a Singapore-owned salvage company.  In its endorsement, the board present the terms of its support for the plan.  These include the conduct of joint ecological assessments by the US Navy, Philippine Coast Guard and representatives of the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), installation of two on-board observers from the TMO, use of ecologically sound materials, i.e., containment barriers, etc., accountability of all ships’ captains for compliance to park rules by all crews.

Rear Admiral Rodolfo D. Isorena, Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, in a letter to the TPAMB dated 6 February 2013 expressed confidence that the conditions set by the Board will be met by the salvors and all other agencies involved in the salvage of the USS Guardian.

Anchors in 800m and 300m of water were dropped yesterday and the work of ensuring that the Smit Borneo, the ship crane that will remove the USS Guardian from the reef, is held fast on the seabed prior to the commencement of the actual salvage operations.  Sea conditions remain unfavorable.

Meanwhile, marine park rangers and coast guard personnel continue to validate the ecological assessment conducted by the US Navy on the last week of January 2013.  Inclement sea conditions preclude the completion of the validation of the earlier assessment.