Philippines assesses $1.4 million fine for damage from Guardian grounding
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. government faces a $1.4 million fine for damage caused to a Philippines national park when the minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground on a coral reef in January, Philippine officials said Monday.
The fine total, converted from 58.4 million Philippine pesos, is based on a 2009 law detailing fines based on total area damaged, unauthorized entry and other violations.
A statement from Tubbataha Reefs National Park superintendent Angelique Songco called the fine just a “slap on the wrist.”
“However, we respect the rule of law, and this is the fine stipulated,” Songco said in the statement. “The Tubbataha Management Office will not ask for anything more.”
Damage to the coral reef totals 25,241 square feet — or about a half a football field. The final determination is about 19,000 square feet less than originally estimated, according to a statement posted on the park’s website Monday.
A U.S. Navy marine biologist joined a team of Philippine experts last week to conduct a more thorough damage assessment than the initial study in January, which was based on aerial observation.
The 224-foot USS Guardian ran aground at 2:25 a.m. Jan. 17 on Tubbataha Reef, a United Nations World Heritage Site. The ship’s 79 crewmembers were evacuated after breaches were found in the wooden and glass fiber hull, although no one was reported injured.
The final pieces of the ship were removed March 29.
Salvaging the Guardian at sea has cost $45 million, a U.S. 7th Fleet spokesman said Monday.
On Thursday, the Navy relieved former Guardian commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, executive officer Lt. Daniel Tyler, the ship’s enlisted assistant navigator and the officer of the deck for not properly adhering to Navy navigation procedures. The remaining Guardian crew will take over the minesweeper USS Warrior, which arrived in Sasebo from Bahrain on March 27.
U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. apologized for the accident Friday during the start of the annual Balikatan bilateral military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo.
“As we have stated in the past, we regret this incident and the United States is prepared to pay compensation for the damage to the reef, as a friend should,” Thomas said.
A U.S. Embassy in Manila statement noted that in addition to the damage compensation, the U.S. Agency for International Development is contributing $100,000 to Western Palawan University to support coral restoration.
Those funds are part of the Philippines Coral Triangle Support Partnership, through which the U.S. has contributed $7.2 million since 2007, according to the embassy statement.