Maritime Matter of the Week

U.S. Diplomat Issues Apology Following Navy Accident In Tubbataha


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A ranking United States diplomat issued an apology to President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines, following a maritime accident. Speaking on behalf of the U.S. government, the diplomat apologized for the grounding of the U.S. Navy minesweeper USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef.

The accident has been under scrutiny because of where it took place. Tubbataha Reef is an atoll coral reef located in the Sulu Sea of the Philippines. It is a marine sanctuary protected as Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, home to over 1,000 different species, many of which are endangered. Among the many marine creatures that call the reef home are lionfish, sea turtles, sharks, and manta rays. The accident could have left several of these marine creatures injured or fatally wounded – not to mention permanently damaging the fragile coral in the area.
Along with apologizing for the grounding, the deputy chief of mission, Brian Goldbeck, of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, also conveyed the government’s condolences over the deaths of six Filipinos who were killed in a hostage situation in Algeria.

“(I) conveyed to President Aquino condolences for (the six Filipinos) killed in Algeria and (the US government’s) apology for the Tubbataha accident, (and that we are) grateful for recovery help,” said Goldbeck on his Twitter account.

Earlier this week, the head of the U.S. 7th Fleet expressed regret over the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef, which along with being a marine sanctuary, is a UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site. Before departing Subic Bay, the USS Guardian canceled a scheduled fuel stop to Puerto Princesa City. It left Olongapo City en route to Indonesia and was transiting the Sulu Sea when the grounding accident took place just before 2:30 a.m. Thursday.
The USS Guardian, an Avenger-class vessel based in Sasebo, Japan, remains stuck on Tubbataha Reef’s south atoll, roughly 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan, and continues to pose a threat to the marine life.
Vice Admiral Scott Swift said he recognizes the importance of the Tubbataha Reef natural park as a World Heritage Site and expressed his condolences over the accident.
“As a protector of the sea and a sailor myself, I greatly regret 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,” he said in a statement posted on the US Navy website.

Authorities have yet to explain what caused the grounding. On Wednesday, the Senate filed a formal inquiry to investigate the accident and determine what exactly caused the USS Guardian to ground in the Tubbataha Reef.

While luckily no one was injured in the maritime accident, every moment that goes by that the vessel remains in the sanctuary is detrimental to the safety of the aquatic life in the reef. Authorities have not said when the vessel will be removed from the area.

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