US Navy will answer for damage to Tubbataha - VFACOM

Posted at 01/21/13 11:53 AM

The United States Ship Guardian is buffeted by waves as it lies on top of a coral reef in Tubbataha, Palawan in this aerial photo released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (WESCOM) on Sunday. A team from the US Navy has arrived to assess the situation. The US Pacific Command has expressed regret over the incident. Photo: AFP/WESCOM

MANILA - The Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACOM) said the Philippine government will demand an explanation from the US government and hold those responsible for the damage done to the Tubbataha Reef due to the grounding of a minesweeper in the World Heritage Site.

"[Sinasabi ng] VFA na sila ay dapat sumunod sa ating batas. So ito nga ang epekto ng VFA - sila ay dapat sumunod sa ating batas. Sila ay ating pinananagot," VFACOM Executive Director Edilberto Adan told ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda."

"They assured us they are cooperating with any action we will take. We are asserting our sovereignty here to make sure that accountability is established at kung ano man ang dapat panagutan, haharapin nila yan."

He denied crew members of the US Navy ship that ran aground beginning Thursday have been released. He said the rescued crew members were taken aboard another US ship but have remained in the country as investigations continue.

"Hindi accurate ang statement na iyon. Sila ay inilapat lamang sa mga rescue vessels na dumating dahil nga iyung ship ay floundering. Nandoon pa rin sila sa US ships na dumating," he said.

Adan was reacting to the claim of Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment national coordinator, that the crew members have left the area without being probed.

The USS Guardian had come from a port call in Subic Bay and was on its way to Indonesia when it ran aground the Tubbataha Reef early morning Thursday. At least 10 meters of the coral reef have been damaged.

The US Navy blamed a faulty navigation chart data that may have misplaced the location of Tubbataha Reef for the grounding.


Bautista described the US Navy's explanation about the incident as "lame", citing the warship's supposed advanced capabilities.

"Ang USS Guardian ay kilala bilang isang may mahusay na navigation equipment at nakakapagtaka ay papuntang Indonesia ito. Eh pataas ang direction nila, hindi pababa," he said.

Militant group Kadamay also raised fears of a possible "cover-up" into the incident, citing the close ties between the US and the Philippines.

"Malacanang's preferred silence only leads us to believe of a highly possible cover-up in the investigation, and considering the overwhelming puppetry and subservience of the Aquino administration to the US government, and the latter's deeply-entrenched influence on the Philippine politics," Kadamay said in a statement.

Extrication underway

According to Adan, US and Philippine teams were already in the area to extricate the warship and prevent further damage to the corals at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The US Navy said that there has been no change on the ship's condition and there are no traces of an oil slick.

"Dalawa na ang salvage tugboats doon at meron isang darating na isang special purpose ship. Ang purpose nito is to control environmental damage kung sakaling may oil spill na tinatawag," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Scott Swift said he "greatly regret(s) any damage this incident has caused to the Tubbataha Reef"

"We know the significance of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and its importance as a World heritage Site. Its protection is vital, and we take seriously our obligations to protect and preserve the maritime environment," Swift said in a statement.

UNESCO declared the Tubbataha Reef a World Heritage Site in 1993. It covers 130,028 hectares and is home to thousands of marine species. – with ANC