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USS Guardian ignored warnings it was nearing reef – Tubbataha official

(Updated 11:14 a.m.) - The US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian, which ran aground Tubbataha Reef on Thursday, was warned it was nearing a protected area but ignored the warnings, the Tubbataha Management Office said Monday. The crew also told TMO's marine rangers to direct its communications to the US Embassy.
Angelique Songco, superintendent of the TMO, said marine rangers could not communicate with the crew of the USS Guardian moments before it got grounded in the area last Thursday.
"'Yung masama, hindi sila nagko-communicate. Tinawagan nila (rangers) at sinabi nila sila ay patungo roon. Ang sabi (ng taga) USS Guardian, kausapin ang embahada, ang embahada ang kausapin sa bagay na yan. (Kaya) hindi nila nakausap ang mga nasa bapor," Songco said in an interview on dzBB radio.
She also said the rangers were about to follow protocol of boarding a vessel to check if it had the proper permit, but saw the minesweeper's crewmembers were in "battle position."
When asked if the rangers warned the USS Guardian's crew they were nearing a protected reef, she said yes. She also said her marine park rangers had introduced themselves.
Despite these, she said the USS Guardian's crew would refer all communications to the US Embassy.
"Tapos nakita na lang nila grounded ang vessel, hindi na makakaalis 'yan," she said.  
An aerial photo (left) of the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian taken on Friday, Jan. 18 shows how it first struck Tubbataha Reef. The second aerial photo (right) taken on Jan. 19 shows the USS Guardian after it shifted position due to strong waves that continue to batter the ship making salvage efforts difficult. AFP/Wescom
Songco said there must already be damage to the reef. But she also said it was unsafe to send divers to the area at this time to assess.
Also, she said they have yet to determine the fines stemming from the grounding, but said the priority is to remove the vessel from the reef.
"Ang unang gusto gawin talaga, alisin ang barko," she said.
Songco added that while US experts have arrived at the scene, they are helpless because of the big waves.
"They are trying. Dami nang expert. 'Di sila makakakilos dahil napakalaki ng alon," she said. Regret Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Scott H. Swift, commander of the US 7th Fleet, said he regretted the grounding of the USS Guardian, one of the fleet's minesweepers, on Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “As a protector of the sea and a sailor myself, I greatly regret any damage this incident has caused to the Tubbataha Reef,” said Swift in a news release posted on the US 7th Fleet website.
The USS Guardian, which just completed a port call in Subic Bay, ran aground on the reef in Sulu Sea on Thursday on its way to Indonesia due to strong currents.   
It was supposed to proceed to East Timor for a training exercise.
A separate article in the US military community periodical Stars and Stripes said an inaccuracy in the US Navy's Digital Nautical Charts may have caused the USS Guardian to run aground on the Tubbataha Reef.
Rear Adm. Thomas Carney, commander of the Logistics Group Western Pacific, has been tasked as the on-scene commander effective Jan. 21 to oversee recovery efforts for the Guardian, the US 7th Fleet said in a statement posted on its website 
The news release also said that once the US ship is safely recovered by their navy, the US government “will continue to work with the Republic of Philippines government to assess the extent of the damage to the reef and the surrounding marine environment caused by the grounding.”
PHL government ready to help  
The Philippine government said it sees no problem in extending help to the US Navy in extricating the USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef, Malacañang said Sunday. 
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also declined to comment on the US Navy's liability in the incident for now, saying the Palace will wait for the investigation on the matter to finish.
“Walang problema kung kakailanganin ang ating tulong,” Valte said on government-run dzRB radio.
For their part, the Philippine Navy has sent out three boats and a few Philippine Coast Guard boats to stand by in case the US Navy needs assistance, said a report on GMA News' Balitanghali on Sunday.
In addition, the Philippine Navy has sent an oil spill response team in the area despite no signs of oil spill yet, it added. —KG/HS, GMA News