A U.S. Navy-contracted crane vessel, M/V Jascon 25, removes the bow of the mine countermeasure ship ex-Guardian on March 26. Guardian ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17. (MC3 Kelly Sanders / U.S. Navy)
MANILA — The final sections of a U.S. Navy ship that has been stuck on a U.N. World Heritage-listed coral reef in the Philippines for more than 10 weeks are set to be removed within days, an official said Thursday.
The Guardian’s bow was cut and lifted onto a salvage vessel this week, and good weather should lead to the removal of the rest of the ship by Monday, Tubbataha Reef marine park Superintendent Angelique Songco said.
“They continue to work, hopefully all done by April 1,” Songco told AFP by text message.
The 68-meter (223-foot) minesweeper ran aground on Tubbataha in a remote part of the Sulu Sea on Jan. 17, damaging a section of reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its rich marine life. It sparked widespread condemnation across the Philippines, a former U.S. colony.
The U.S. government has apologized for the accident, which it initially blamed on faulty maps. The Philippines said it would impose fines.
Due to fears that towing it to deeper waters would inflict more damage on the reef, the U.S. government agreed to scrap and dismantle the Guardian, which was worth about $277 million. A series of photographs released by the U.S. Navy on Wednesday showed its front section hanging by crane cables above the water, part of its wooden hull and its metal innards facing the camera.
Workers began dismantling the ship Feb. 26, but bad weather caused them to miss their March 23 target to complete their work. Songco said a joint team of U.S. and Filipino divers would assess the extent of the reef damage after the vessel was removed.
Under a 2010 law that made Tubbataha a protected area, the U.S. Navy could face a multi-million-dollar fine for damaging coral, said Gregg Yan, spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund Philippines. The WWF helps the government manage Tubbataha.