Philippines Government Seeking Compensation from U.S. Over ‘Guardian’ Grounding

Heavy waves crash against the grounded mine countermeasure ship USS Guardian (MCM 5), which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on January 17, 2013. U.S. Navy Photo
Heavy waves crash against the grounded mine countermeasure ship USS Guardian (MCM 5), which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on January 17, 2013. U.S. Navy Photo

The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs says it will continue to pursue compensation from the U.S. for damages to the protected Tubbataha Reef caused by the grounding of the USS Guardian in January 2013.

Philippines Supreme Court on Tuesday cited lack of jurisdiction when it dismissed a “Writ of Kalikasan” plea that would hold U.S. Navy officials, as well as some Philippines officials, liable for the incident and damage to the reef, instead deferring to the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, to seek the appropriate compensation from the U.S. The Supreme Court also ruled that while the U.S. was not liable for damages under Writ of Kalikasan, it should still “bear international responsibility” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The USS Guardian ran aground on the UNESCO World Heritage site in the central Philippines on January 17, 2013 resulting in the total loss of the ship and extensive damage to the protected reef. The USS Guardian, a wooden-hulled minesweeper, was eventually deemed beyond repair and was cut up and removed from the reef in an operation that lasted several months.

Damage to the reef meanwhile has been estimated to be approximately 2,346 square meters. The Philippine government had previously sent the Navy a bill totaling nearly US $1.5 million in fines.

A statement Wednesday from the DFA acknowledged the Supreme Court decision and that it will continue to work with the U.S. government in seeking damages.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs notes the decision by the Supreme Court on the Petition for Writ of Kalikasan with regards to the damage caused by a US ship to the Tubbataha Reef,” the statement said. “We will continue our ongoing discussions with the US government on the matter of securing full compensation for the damage caused to the Tubbataha Reef, and will be guided by the Supreme Court decision and the advice of the Office of the Solicitor General.”

The DFA added that it will also continue to work with other government agencies to enhance the navigational safety in the area and preserve the reef and its environment.

A U.S. Navy investigation into the grounding revealed a lack of leadership and situational awareness. Three of the ship’s senior officers including the captain were all subsequently relieved of duty as a result of the incident.