Friday, February 1, 2013

Philippine Task Force on Tubbataha

By Lilybeth G. Ison
MANILA, Jan. 23 (PNA) -- The Philippine Task Force on Tubbataha reported that around 1,000 square meters of the reef were damaged in the grounding the United States minesweeper USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef National Park last week.

"There were dives made by the US Navy to assess the extent of damage to the ship and also a dive made by our Philippine assessment team to determine the extent of damage to the reef itself. The damage, based on the initial dive, was approximately 1,000 square meters," said Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda during Wednesday's press briefing in Malacanang.

As regards the damage of USS Guardian, Lacierda said there were severe damage to the rudder and the propeller of the vessel based on the initial assessment of the divers.

Under Republic Act 10067 or "The Tubbataha National Park Law," the Tubbataha Reef National Park covers an approximate area of 97,030 hectares.

"This (Tubbataha Reef) is a national treasure and a world heritage site and, therefore, it is important to us. It is precious to us. The primary consideration right now is to remove the ship from the reef," the Presidential Spokesman said.

Lacierda stressed that the first and the paramount responsibility right now of the task force is to take away the ship.

"The (Philippine) Coast Guard is there precisely to act as a marine protection agency. We cannot emphasize (more) the fact that this is a national treasure, this is a world heritage site and, therefore, we will do the best that we can to ensure that the extrication of the ship shall be done with minimal damage to the reef," he said.

As to the issue if the Philippine government will claim damages from the US government, Lacierda said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be the lead agency in discussing this matter with their US counterparts.

"Nag-usap (na) kami ni (DFA) Secretary (Albert) del Rosario. Do not be worried about our claims. We have the law. We will enforce the law," he noted.

But, he said that before discussing anything else, "we have to ensure that we cause minimal damage to the reef itself during the period of salvaging the ship away from the reef."

Lacierda said the US salvage operators have already fine tuned their plan subject, of course, to the discussions with their Philippine counterparts, on how to best salvage the ship with minimal damage to the reef.

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