The U.S. Navy has come up with a plan for the minesweeping ship grounded Jan. 17 on a biologically sensitive coral reef offshore from the Philippines. It will cut the 224-foot-long Avenger-class ship into chunks which can be carted away.
Under normal circumstances, salvage teams might attempt to lift the damaged shift off the reef with huge cranes, but its precarious position on sensitive marine habitat has the Philippine government incensed and the Navy doing everything it can to minimize further damage to the reef. A couple of heavy lift cranes are scheduled to arrive on scene by Feb. 1, to get started on a job that will likely take a month to complete.
The 79-sailor crew was evacuated the same day the ship ran aground, an event naval planners are blaming on faulty navigational charts. A Navy spokesperson said the chart the USS Guardian's officers were using to guide the minesweeper placed the reef eight nautical miles away from where it actually is. What can anyone say, other than a very hearty "Whoops!" (...y'know, instead of "Yarrrr!")
Authorities in the Philippines have estimated that the ship's grounding damaged about 10,000 square feet of reef. They're looking for compensation for the damage, which, fortunately, doesn't appear to include oil and chemical spills. Recovery workers got on that shortly after all of the sailors were rescued, removing 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 671 gallons of lubricating oil, and a bunch of other stuff that could have added to the mayhem.
Nature has already began to do some of the work dismantling the USS Guardian's wood and fiberglass hull. The reef punctured the hull, and seawater damage caused most of the fiberglass sheathing on the ship's port side to peel away.
Tubbataha Reef — where the crippled ship awaits rescue — is a popular destination for divers, and forms the basis for a 239,000 acre national marine park established before the USS Guardian was even a heap of rusty metal plates at the shipyard in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. It's little wonder that the Philippinos are so upset.
Photo credit: MC3 Kelby Sanders, U.S. Navy