A US Navy commander has apologized for damages to the Tubbataha Reef after the USS Guardian ran aground on the UNESCO World Heritage site off the Philippine island of Palawan on Thursday.
“As a protector of the sea and a sailor myself, I greatly regret any damage this incident has caused the Tubbataha Reef,” Vice Adm. Scott Swift, the US 7th Fleet Commander, said in a report posted Sunday on a Navy website.
“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 US Navy reported no signs of oil slicks in the area while Swift promised to step up efforts to prevent further damage, CNN reports. The ship spun around 90 degrees due to the strong current, possibly causing more damage to the protected sanctuary, according to AFP. The incident remains under investigation.
The 224-foot (68-meter) US Navy Minesweeper was on the way to Indonesia having completed a port call in Subic Bay when it ran aground the reef, about 80 miles east-southwest of Palawan Island in the Sulu Sea, the US Navy reported. All 79 sailors were evacuated from the vessel and transferred by small boats to other US ships.
Rear Adm. Thomas Carney has been tasked as the on-scene commander to oversee recovery efforts for the Guardian.
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,” the Navy said in a news release.