US Navy turns over USS Guardian's data to Manila's probing team

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Monday, April 8, 2013

MANILA -- The United States has turned over to the Philippine Maritime Casualty Investigating Team (MCIT) data and other relevant materials to its probe of the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.

The US Navy handed over to the MCIT the digital navigation charts and other relevant documents of its ship.

"These maps and documents are important to our own independent investigation of what caused the grounding of the USS Guardian," Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Gilberto Asuque.

"Aside from determining what happened, these materials will also help us identify measures that should be taken to prevent similar incidents," the official added.

Aside from turning over these materials, US Navy officials also responded to specific queries raised by the MCIT.

"The MCIT, as part of its investigation posed technical and substantive queries relevant to our independent investigation. US Navy officials have cooperated and the MCIT will process and assess the materials turned over to us and other information we obtained," Asuque said.

The safety inquiry aims to establish the cause of the grounding of the USS Guardian, an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, on the North side of the South Shoal of the Tubbataha Reefs at 2:22 a.m. of January 17.

The inquiry also aims to identify new measures that may be undertaken by the Philippines and the US to prevent such grounding from happening again on the Tubbataha Reefs.

Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that the government would not ask for higher fines from the US on the damages that the USS Guardian made on the Unesco World Heritage site.

"The basis of that (fine) is the law itself. There's a law that provides penalty for damage to the reef," he said, adding a final dive was made to assess the damages.

In the assessment conducted by the Philippines and the US, it was found out that about 2,345 square meters of corals were damaged, much lower than the initial estimate of 4,000 square meters.

The estimated damage was equivalent to about $1.4 million or around P60 million or about $600 or P24,000 per square meter based on Republic Act 10067, otherwise known as the "Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009."

Salvage operations of the stuck ship was completed late last month after it was cut into pieces. (SDR/Sunnex)

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