MANILA — A U.S. Navy minesweeper has run aground in a protected marine sanctuary in the Philippines, the U.S. embassy in Manila said Jan. 17.
The Guardian ran aground on the Tubattaha Reef the night of Jan. 17 “during normal transit,” the embassy said.
The extent of the damage to the ship and the cause of the accident were still not known, it added.
“The government of the Philippines was promptly informed of the incident and offered to assist the U.S. Navy,” it said. The Navy said on its website that the 224-foot (68-meter) vessel is based in Sasebo, southern Japan, but it was not known what the ship was doing in the area when the incident happened.
Located in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of the western island of Palawan, Tubattaha Reef is a protected sanctuary that is popular with divers. It has walls of corals and a diverse ecosystem that environmentalists say rivals that of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The U.S. embassy statement did not say whether any coral was damaged, although it said there were no immediate reports of fuel or oil leaks. All the crew members were safe, it added.
The Philippine military also confirmed the grounding Jan. 17, but it was too early to say whether coral was damaged.
“The most probable cause is mis-navigation,” said Maj. Oliver Banaria, a military spokesman in Palawan.
Washington considers the Philippines a major non-NATO ally in Asia. It played host to some of the U.S. military’s biggest bases in Asia until 1992, when the last troops pulled out after the Senate voted to end lease agreements. Manila ratified a visiting forces agreement with the United States seven years later, paving the way for large-scale joint military exercises.
Some 600 U.S. forces have been operating in the southern Philippines since 2002 to train local troops against al-Qaida-linked militants.