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Navy minesweeper to be dismantled after running aground off Philippines

minesweeper.jpg

Aerial view of the U.S. Navy minesweeper USS Guardian stranded in the Tubbataha Reef, a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea. (AP)

A U.S. Navy minesweeper that ran aground on a reef off the coast of the Philippines two weeks ago will be cut up and removed in sections, officials said.

The 224-foot USS Guardian got stuck Jan. 17 on the Tubbataha Reef, in the Sulu Sea, after leaving a port in Subic Bay. The crew of 79 was evacuated the next day, while Navy brass considered options for dislodging it. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Anthony Falvo told Stars and Stripes they concluded it could only be dismantled and removed in pieces in a process that will take at least a month.

"... our only supportable option is to dismantle the damaged ship and remove it in sections.”

- U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Anthony Falvo

“Our naval architecture and salvage experts have reviewed all possible alternatives, and our only supportable option is to dismantle the damaged ship and remove it in sections,” Falvo wrote in an email to the military news website.

“We have the right team of experienced professionals to conduct this complex operation and to ensure that it is done safely while minimizing damage to the surrounding marine environment. We expect the first floating crane to arrive in a few days and the dismantling to take over a month — we will work to conduct the operation as quickly as safety, weather and environmental protection allows.”

No one was injured when the ship, one of  the Navy's 14 Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships in service, ran aground about 400 miles southwest of Manila.

The ship's hull was scored  in the accident and it has since been shifting on the reef, causing damage both to the reef, which is recognized as a United Nations World Heritage Site, and to the ship. Some 15,000 gallons of diesel was removed from the ship before it could spill into the sea.

Task Force Unit Guardian spokesman Lt. Cmdr. James Stockman, speaking from Manila, told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday that seawater was pumped in to replace the fuel as a counter to the ship’s buoyancy, and Kevlar bands were used to reinforce the ships structure after much of the hull’s fiberglass coating had worn away.

“The Philippine Coast Guard is going to review the salvage plan of the U.S. Navy, and more information will be forthcoming soon,” Stockman said in a statement to Stars and Stripes. “The ship is currently stable, and we continue with our preparations for removal of Guardian from the reef.”

Investigators are still trying to determine was caused the Guardian to run aground.

The ship, which costs $5 million per year to operate, according to the Navy, was one of four stationed in Japan. All minesweeper ships, including the Guardian, are scheduled to be replaced in the coming years by Littorial Combat ships, which can be outfitted with minesweeping equipment.

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