The US Navy plans to dismantle a minesweeper that ran aground on a coral reef off the Philippines because the ship is a complete loss and removing it intact would cause more damage to the reef and the ship’s hull, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
There is also a chance the USS Guardian might break up or sink if crews tried to remove it without taking it apart first, US Pacific Fleet spokesman Captain Darryn James said.
Limiting damage to the coral, which is part of a national marine park, is important to the navy, James said.
“We really do care about being good stewards of the environment,” he said by phone from Pacific Fleet headquarters in Pearl Harbor.
The navy has presented the ship removal plan to the Philippines, which is reviewing it.
“We’re working very closely with the Philippine Coast Guard, with their navy and their government personnel. We’ve been grateful for their support as we all work together to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” James said.
It is expected to take over a month to dismantle the Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Jan. 17.
Crews have already removed 56,780 liters of fuel from the ship. They have also taken off hundreds of liters of lubricating oil and paint.
They will be removing human wastewater and other materials that could harm the environment, James said.
The US Navy is hiring floating cranes to help with the removal. A contractor in Singapore is sending the cranes, which should arrive on site in a few days.
The navy originally said the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard, but now it says the ship is “beyond economical repair.”
No one was injured when the ship ran aground at the reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park.
The park is a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, about 640km southwest of Manila.
The Guardian was on its way to Indonesia after making a rest and refueling stop in Subic Bay, a former US naval base west of Manila.
Vice Admiral Scott Swift, the US 7th Fleet Commander based in Yokosuka, Japan, has ordered an investigation into the grounding.
The incident damaged at least 1,000m2 of coral reef, according to an initial, conservative estimate by the Philippine Coast Guard.
Tubbataha Reef park manager Angelique Songco said the damage is the worst ever in the sanctuary since the park was established in 2001.
The navy and US Ambassador Harry Thomas have apologized for the grounding and promised to cooperate with its close ally.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said last week that the US Navy must explain how the ship got off course. He said the navy would face fines for damaging the environment.