PH has yet to file ‘reef’ pay claims

THE United States regrets the damage wreaked by a US minesweeper at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park 16 months ago and it is prepared to give compensation, but the Philippine government has not yet given its compensation request, according to Ambassador Philip Goldberg.

“We regret very much what happened and we’ve expressed that many times to the government of the Philippines as well as the people of the Philippines,” Goldberg said during a visit to Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.

Goldberg said they had already completed a review of the incident involving the Avenger-class minesweeper USS Guardian which ran aground the Tubbataha Reef, a World Heritage Site, on Jan. 17, 2013.

“The people involved have received punishments as a result, and that’s very important,” he said, referring to the vessel’s officers who were blamed for a series of errors, bad leadership decisions and poor planning that caused the grounding.

A US Navy probe caused the relief of the Guardian’s commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, executive officer Lt. Daniel Tyler and the ship’s enlisted assistant navigator and the officer of the deck at the time.

Goldberg said the US also went to “great lengths” over 10 weeks to remove the Guardian from the reef with minimal additional damage, but marine experts still estimated the damage to reach $1.3 million involving 2,345.67 square meters of reef.

The assessment was made by a team of experts from the Tubbataha Management Office, Department of Science and Technology and the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

Goldberg’s predecessor, former ambassador Harry Thomas, even admitted last year the US knew that rehabilitating the reef would take years.

“Lastly, there is the question of compensation, and we are awaiting for the compensation request from the Philippine government,” the ambassador said.

“We will review it. We are in the process of discussing it and that will come too. But we will address it also,” he added.

Last month, marine biologists from the University of Queensland in Australia said the damage to Tubbataha Reef was more extensive than first thought.

According to Dr Benjamin Neal, a comparison of images and data captured across the area where the USS Guardian ran aground indicated the reef had been very slow to regenerate.

“The ship ran aground in a marine protected area, which is one of the most pristine reefs in the Philippines,” Neal said.

“It appears the reef outside the direct impact zone was also damaged, probably by strong wave and current action that was altered by the presence of the ship.”

Demolition crews took two months to dismantle the wooden Avenger-class minesweeper ship, using a giant, floating crane.

Working with Tubbataha Management Officers, Neal and colleagues at the Catlin Seaview Survey used a special panoramic camera system that gave them greater insight into the recovery of the damaged Tubbataha Reef.


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