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USS Guardian crew transferred as vessel remains aground on Tubbataha Reef

(Updated 7:53 p.m.) The US Navy said all of its personnel aboard the USS Guardian, which ran aground on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on Thursday, have been transferred to support vessels for safety reasons as the Navy minesweeper remains stuck. 
In its latest statement posted on its website Friday, the US Navy's 7th Fleet said all 79 crew members of the ship were transferred to  support vessels USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and MSV C-Champion because of unsuccessful efforts to free the Guardian on high tide. “Seventh Fleet ships remain on scene and essential Guardian Sailors will continue conducting survey operations onboard the ship as needed until she is recovered,” Seventh Fleet commander Vice Adm. Scott Swift said in the statement. “Several support vessels have arrived and all steps are being taken to minimize environmental effects while ensuring the crew’s continued safety,” he added.
The statement also said the cause of the grounding is under investigation.
Meanwhile, 7th Fleet public affairs officer Lt. Brian Wierzbicki, in a separate email to GMA News Online, said speculations about damage to the reef and potential liability of the US Navy would be “premature.”
“Should a claim for damages be filed, it will reviewed in accordance with established procedures,” Wierzbicki said.
At a Palace briefing, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also expressed a similar sentiment about what the Philippine government can demand from the US should the reef be significantly damaged.
“We don’t want to make any speculations yet at this point. We would want to proceed where everything has been thoroughly established before we make any further comment on this matter,” she said.
Wierzbicki said support units and an assessment team are on the way to the ship “to assess conditions, assist in salvage operations and develop a recovery plan.” Meanwhile, the US Embassy in a statement said the damage to the reef cannot be determined yet until the ship is removed. It also said there are no reports of oil or fuel leakage from the ship. “The US Navy recognizes that the Tubbataha Reef is a unique and treasured environment, and every effort is being made to ensure the safety of the coral reef,” the statement said. “We are in close communication with the Philippine authorities, including the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) and we very much appreciate their cooperation,” it added.    
Also on Friday, the Philippine Coast Guard said it will dispatch a team to the area to check if the reef was damaged and if there was an oil spill.
Meanwhile, Naval Forces West commander Commodore Rustom Peña told reporters on Friday that the Philippine Navy will be there to provide assistance should the US Navy need it.
“So far wala naman silang hinihinging assistance pa,” he said
Based on information he received, Peña also said the USS Guardian was en route to India.
When the grounding occured, the Guardian had just completed a port call in Subic Bay, Olongapo City, and was en route to the next port of call. — with Patricia Denise Chiu and Gian C. Geronimo/RSJ/VVP/KBK, GMA News