Salvaging of US Navy ship could do more harm to the reef – Migz

FORMER Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri said he expects the American military “to readily accept full responsibility” for the damages caused by a US Navy minesweeper that ran hard aground at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP), a protected marine sanctuary in the Philippine province of Palawan.

“We are definitely counting on the US military to promptly acknowledge fault and pay all administrative fines and reparations that will be imposed by Philippine authorities,” said Zubiri, author of the 2009 law establishing the TRNP as a protected area.

“More important, the US Navy should apologize for dishonoring Philippine law. Their ship clearly violated a protected zone. They should also pledge never again to enter the area without prior permission,” said Zubiri, former chairman of the Senate environment and natural resources committee.

Zubiri invoked Section 19 of Republic Act 10067, the TRNP Law, which states: “The TRNP shall be off-limits to navigation, except for activities that are sanctioned by the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) such as, but not limited to, tourism and research. Except in emergency situations, it shall be unlawful to enter the TRNP without prior permission from the TPAMB or the Protected Area Superintendent.

Violations of this section shall be subject to imprisonment of not less than six months but not more than one year and a fine of P100,000 but not more than P300,000, as may be determined by the TPAMB.”

The former senator also cited Section 20 of the law, which further states: “Damages to the reef shall subject the responsible person or entity to the payment of administrative fines set by the TPAMB based on current valuation standards and to the payment of the cost of restoration.”

Meanwhile, Zubiri warned that the Yokosuka, Japan-based US Seventh Fleet’s attempt to salvage its stricken ship could do more harm to the coral haven declared as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1993.

“One one hand, our worry is that efforts to extricate the incapacitated vessel, including the deployment of tugboats, might cause further damage to the fragile reef,” he said.

One the other hand, the allowing the 68-meter, 1,367-ton ship to stay marooned may well ram it harder against the reef, especially during high tide or bad weather, according to Zubiri, convenor of Pilipinas Ecowarriors, an environmental conservation group.

“The TRNP is an extremely sensitive and highly protected area. In fact, it is unlawful for any person or entity to hold fast or secure a vessel in place either by using an anchor or by tying on to any part of the reef. Authorized vessels may only utilize mooring buoys (provided by the TRNP),” Zubiri pointed out.

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian grazed 10 meters of a reef before it ran aground in the marine park’s shallow waters 128 kilometers off Palawan.

The ship was sailing through the Sulu Sea to its next port call after leaving the former US Naval Base in Subic Bay, Olongapo City.

Nearly all of the ship’s six officers and 73 enlisted men and women have already been evacuated.

The TRNP is a vital habitat for globally vulnerable and endangered marine species.

Owing to its exceptional physical and biological value, the area is fully protected against destructive human exploitation and managed with great care.
The US has projected itself as a Pacific power and increased ship visits to the Philippines amid tensions with China over territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

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