By Cris Larano
MANILA–The Philippines will seek remuneration from the U.S. for the damages sustained by the Tubbataha Reef after a U.S. Navy minesweeper ran aground last week in the World Heritage-listed coral reef.
“It’s incumbent upon our government to file for such claim,” Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya said, adding that overseeing efforts to remove the ship from the reef will be the priority.
He said at a news briefing at the presidential palace that senior U.S. Navy officers have arrived in the country to handle the salvage operations, but their plans need to be vetted by the Philippine government first.
He said the USS Guardian is now “heavily grounded” on the south atoll of Tubbataha Reef, which minimizes the chances of more damage to the marine park.
Mr. Abaya said the Philippine Coast Guard, an agency under his office, will lead the effort to remove the ship and in investigating why the ship strayed into Tubbataha. He said an oil spill boom has been laid out and the ship defueled to contain any potential oil spill.
The U.S. Navy said in a statement issued from Japan over the weekend that it is undertaking an investigation to determine the exact cause of the grounding. Last Friday, the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency provided the Navy preliminary findings of a review on Digital Nautical Charts that contain inaccurate navigation data and may have been a factor in the grounding.
When the Guardian is safely recovered, the U.S. Navy said it will continue to work with the Philippines to assess the extent of the damage to the reef and the surrounding marine environment caused by the grounding.
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