US envoy expressed regret over Tubbataha incident

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Friday, January 25, 2013

MANILA -- United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. on Friday conveyed his "profound regret" over the week-long grounding of the USS Guardian on the protected Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.

A week after the incident on the Tubbataha Reef on January 17, Thomas issued a statement wishing to convey his profound regret "on behalf of the United States government."

"This was an unfortunate accident, and I recognize the legitimate concerns over the damage caused to a unique and precious wonder of nature, internationally recognized for its beauty and biological diversity," he said in a statement sent by the US Embassy in Manila.

Militants and environmental advocates are one in criticizing the US Navy for the damages the USS Guardian caused on the Tubbataha Reef, a Unesco World Heritage Site and a protected marine environment recognized by the international community to contain rare species of corals.

"My military colleagues and I are totally committed to working jointly with our Philippine counterparts to remove the ship as expeditiously as possible, making every possible effort to avoid or minimize further damage," Thomas said.

Reports said that the USS Guardian has already damaged more than 1,000 square meters of the reef. Environment and marine experts said that it would take 100 years for the reef to replenish what it lost during the accident.

But Thomas was quick to commit that the US government will work collaboratively with the Philippine government "to assess the damage and to take steps to address the environmental issues that have arisen from this incident."

The envoy expressed gratitude to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine Navy (PN) for their "close cooperation" with the US Navy.

"We will continue our combined efforts to resolve this matter. As the investigation of this matter proceeds, we hope to continue our close coordination with the Philippine government to understand precisely what happened so we can ensure there will be no recurrence," Thomas said.

The USS Guardian remains stuck on the reef as US and Philippine Coast Guard personnel race to extract the warship before the weather condition worsens.

Philippine legislators have already criticized the US government for harming the Tubbataha Reef, which was nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

The Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement is also conducting a separate investigation on the incident that occurred on the midnight of January 17.

The US Navy said that their navigation equipment failed during the accident.

The USS Guardian arrived on January 13 (Sunday) at the Subic Bay for a routine port call. It was on its way to Indonesia and transiting the Sulu Sea when the incident happened.

A forward-deployed vessel to Sasebo in Japan, the USS Guardian was commissioned on December 16, 1989, and has a crew of about 80 officers and crews, including eight Filipino-American.

The word tubbataha is a combination of two words "tuba" and "taha," which means "a long reef exposed at low tide."

Tubbataha has become a popular site for seasoned sports divers because of its coral "walls" where the shallow coral reef abruptly ends, giving way to great depths. (CVB/Sunnex)

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