Swept Away

Navy to scrap $277 million ship to avoid scraping reef

USS Guardian sits aground / AP
January 30, 2013

A United States minesweeper ship that crashed into a coral reef due to inaccurate Navy maps will have to be cut into small pieces and removed in order to prevent harming the ocean’s ecosystem, according to the Navy and other reports.

The $277 million USS Guardian, a Naval warship that clears waterways of mines, crashed into a coral reef near the Philippines earlier this month.

The Navy will disassemble it piece by piece in order to avoid damaging the reef rather than tow the multi-million dollar ship off of the reef and perform necessary repairs.

"Our only supportable option is to dismantle the damaged ship and remove it in sections," Capt. Darryn James, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was quoted as saying Tuesday by the Military Times.

One Navy source criticized decision makers for deliberately destroying the expensive warship just weeks before devastating cuts to the defense budget are scheduled to take place.

"Boneheaded decision making on the way into the reef and boneheaded decision making on the way out," said the source, who requested anonymity so as not to be seen criticizing the Navy. "It's amazing how we can find ways to spend more money we don't have on the eve of sequestration."

It remains unclear how much the cleanup operation will cost U.S. taxpayers.

It is believed the ship crashed into the reef due to the use of flawed maps.

"The U.S. Navy also revealed Jan. 18 that the digital navigational chart in use by the Guardian misplaced the correct location of the reef by about eight nautical miles," the Military Times reported.

Navy officials claim the maps have since been updated and corrected.

One senior congressional source warned that these types of accidents could increasingly occur as the Obama administration continues to cut the military.

"Sooner or later people have to come to terms with the reality that Obama is wearing out the Navy through over deployments and cuts to vital training and readiness accounts," the aide said. "Look no further than this reef in the Philippines to see what a ‘hollow force’ looks like."

The Navy maintains the crashed ship is beyond saving due to extensive damage. The ship’s hull has been penetrated and its fiberglass ripped off by waves.

Two cranes are currently en route to the crash site and are scheduled to arrive on Feb. 1, according to the Military Times. It will take more than a month for the Navy to demolish the ship and safely remove it from the reef.

American salvage teams are reported to have already cleaned-up any portions of the ship that might have damaged the Tubbataha Reef, which is located in the Sulu Sea and has been nominated as one of the new seven wonders of the world. According to the Military Times, Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the Seventh Fleet, apologized for any possible environmental degradation:

"As a protector of the sea and a sailor myself, I greatly regret any damage this incident has caused to the Tubbataha Reef," Swift said in a statement. "We know the significance of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and its importance as a world heritage site. Its protection is vital, and we take seriously our obligations to protect and preserve the maritime environment."

The destruction of the ship is being viewed as a "serious blow" to the force.

"The loss of the Guardian is a serious blow for the stressed U.S. mine force, which has been called on to expand operations in the Persian Gulf," according to the Military Times. "Including the Guardian, 12 of the fleet’s 14 mine countermeasures ships are currently operating overseas or forward-deployed to the Far East or the Persian Gulf region."