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Minesweeper remains stuck, assessment begins

Jan. 22, 2013 - 04:53PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 22, 2013 - 04:53PM  |  
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The minesweeper Guardian remains stuck on the Tubbataha Reefs in the western Philippines, but salvage teams have managed to board the ship several times to determine the vessel's condition, Navy officials said Tuesday.

"Salvage teams have been on and off the ship," a Navy official in Washington said. "They're not getting long windows when the weather breaks, but they've gotten some people on board to assess the situation."

An external salvage assessment of the ship was performed on Monday, Jan. 21, and an internal assessment was begun on Tuesday. It will continue after daylight on Wednesday, the official said.

Local time at the incident site is 13 hours ahead of Washington time.

The Guardian shows no signs of a fuel leak, the official said, and the ship continues to be surveyed by a Navy P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft. "No evident movement" of the ship has been seen since Jan. 18, when it swung about 90 degrees from a head-on orientation to rest broadside on the reef.

Earlier reports indicated several compartments on the ship had taken on water, but no new flooding has been noted, the official said.

Weather continues to be an issue at the scene, and salvors hope to rig an environmental containment boom after daylight on Jan. 23. Seas in the area are running about four-to-six feet, with 10-15 knot winds gusting to 25 knots.

The Guardian ran aground in the early hours of Jan. 17 while en route from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Indonesia.

The Navy and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, creator of the electronic maps in use by the ship, said Jan. 18 that the digital map used by the Guardian misplaced the reef's location by about eight nautical miles.

None of the 79-man crew were injured, but all were taken off by the evening of Jan. 17 as a safety precaution.

All but 10 crewmembers were transferred to the fleet oiler Rappahannock by the morning of Jan. 22, the official said. A ten-man "command element" from the Guardian is remaining on the scene to work with salvage teams.

The Japan-based destroyer Mustin, Navy survey ship Bowditch and Filipino salvage tug Trabajador remain with the Guardian, the Navy said.

Other assets are en route. The commercial anchor-handling tug Vos Apollo is headed from Singapore with heavy lift cranes and a barge for use in possible defueling operations, and is expected to arrive next week. The Navy salvage ship Salvor is coming from Pearl Harbor, and should arrive before the end of this week.

While the assessments continue, Navy salvors are working to figure how to remove the ship from the reef. It will be at least another week and maybe longer, the official said, before that decision is made.

The Navy still hopes to get the Guardian off the reef and return her to service.

"There are no plans to abandon the ship right now," the official said.

‘Unfortunate Incident'

Philippine media have reported that the U.S. Navy refused to allow local officials to board the Guardian.

"That was an unfortunate incident that happened right at the start of the event," the Navy official said. "Since, we've had good communications with the Philippines throughout this incident."

The Navy official explained that Philippine park rangers, on the scene via small boat within hours of the grounding, arrived while the ship was at general quarters.

"They were still trying to determine the ship's state," the official said of the Guardian's crew, noting that ships at GQ are in a security condition that precludes taking aboard visitors.

The incident will be part of the overall investigation into the grounding, the official added.

The Guardian is one of four U.S. minesweepers forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan. Only 14 minesweepers remain in U.S. service, and in recent years the mine force has been one of the busiest sectors of the fleet. The potential loss of the ship, even for extended repairs, will further stretch the force.

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