Havoc on Heritage: The USS Guardian and the Tubbataha Reef one year later

By , on January 16, 2014


USS Guardian in January 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Aircrewman Tactical Helicopter 3rd Class Geoffrey Trudell / Wiki Commons
USS Guardian in January 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Aircrewman Tactical Helicopter 3rd Class Geoffrey Trudell / Wiki Commons

A year ago today, on January 17, 2013, United States Navy ship USS Guardian pillaged the highly protected area of Tubbataha Reef  in the Sulu Sea–a  UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most protected and visited marine reserves.

The Navy ship ran aground the protected waters and caused damaged to an estimated 2,345.67 square meters of reef as reported by Tubbataha Reefs Park Superintendent Angelique Songco. The ship was removed by tearing it down piece by piece and was removed 10 weeks later on March 30th.

Despite being removed, damage is still evident in the stricken areas, according to June 2013 reports from a team of divers from the Tubbataha Management Office, Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Damages to corals and reefs as well as a notable decrease in marine life forms were reported.

The Tubbataha Reef is home to over 300 species of corals and serves a breeding ground for over 1,500 marine species

Measures were taken by concerned groups consisting of lawyers, environmentalists, and even Catholic bishops to compel the United States to pay for damages by filing a case to the Supreme Court.

On January 2, 2014, Pamalakaya, one of the groups who supported the SC case, said “It will take one year for a millimeter of mostly hard corals in Tubbataha’s South Section to go back to its sound condition and it will take 250 years for a meter of coral to mature.”

U.S. Navy photo / Wiki Commons
U.S. Navy photo / Wiki Commons

According to Chief Theresa Mundita Lim of Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), the compensation for damages amount to P58 million (US$1.3 million). The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is still reportedly doing rounds of negotiations with the U.S. government.

“There has been good progress in the discussion between the Philippines and the US on the issue of compensation…. The department is committed and determined to pursue compensation,” said DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez in an interview for Rappler.

Negotiations ensue despite the statement from the U.S. government a month after the USS Guardian got stuck in Philippine protected waters.

U.S. Navy photo / Wiki Commons
U.S. Navy photo / Wiki Commons

From an official statement released February 3, 2013, it said, “In view of damage caused by the USS Guardian accident at Tubbataha Reef, the United States has expressed its regrets and is prepared to provide appropriate compensation to the Republic of the Philippines.”

In an effort to address the Philippines’ call for justice, NavyTimes.com reported that the U.S. Navy dismissed 4 officers for failing to “adhere to standard US Navy navigation procedures.”

With reports from Pia Ranada (Rappler) and Agence France-Presse