News / Asia

Philippines Seeks US Compensation for Reef Damage

FILE - The USS Guardian, a U.S. Navy minesweeper, is seen at the Vicinity of South Islet in Tubbataha Reefs after it ran aground in Palawan province, west of Manila January 19, 2013 in this handout picture distributed by the Armed Forces of the Philippine
FILE - The USS Guardian, a U.S. Navy minesweeper, is seen at the Vicinity of South Islet in Tubbataha Reefs after it ran aground in Palawan province, west of Manila January 19, 2013 in this handout picture distributed by the Armed Forces of the Philippine
Simone Orendain
The Philippines is asking the United States to pay more than a million dollars for damaging an internationally protected reef a year and a half ago. The reef is located in the Sulu Sea, on the opposite side of the South China Sea where the Philippines is in a dispute with China and four other nations.

In early 2013, the U.S. naval mine sweeping vessel, the USS Guardian was stuck for 73 days on a section of the Tubbataha Reef on the eastern coast of Palawan province. 
 
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Officials estimate the minesweeper damaged more than 2,300 square meters of corals.  Engineers had to dismantle the ship to remove it.

Tubbataha Reefs’ Protected Area Superintendent Angelique Songco says an assessment team, which included local officials, U.S. Navy personnel and a U.S. marine biologist, concluded damages would run about $1.5 million.

“We all agreed.  We had scientists with us.  We all agreed that that was the size after having measured it.  And yes, we’re happy about it and we think it’s fair,” said Songco.

World Heritage Site

The 97,000-hectare Tubbataha Reefs are a designated United Nations World Heritage Site.  The marine park’s administrators say more than 70 percent of the world’s coral species grow there.  The sanctuary is a popular recreational diving spot and home to internationally threatened and endangered marine animals.   

A local environmentalist group “Kalikasan” (or “nature”) says the compensation request is “not only too late, it is not enough.”  Kalikasan National Coordinator Clarence Bautista says the Philippine government should pursue criminal and civil cases.

“It doesn’t address the issue of how the U.S. Navy or USS Guardian responsible officers and persons [will] be held accountable under Philippine jurisdiction,” said Bautista.  

Seeking compensation

Kalikasan filed a petition with the Philippines’ high court calling for several conditions including “immediate compensation” of up to $27 million, pursuing criminal charges under Philippine law and placing a moratorium on joint U.S. and Philippine military exercises especially in marine protected areas.  Bautista says last month the Supreme Court sent word that the U.S. respondents had not yet received the filing.

The U.S. Navy relieved four officers including the ship’s commander following the incident.

Weeks after the USS Guardian was cleared away, a Chinese fishing vessel carrying endangered species ran aground on the northern edge of the reef.  

Tubbataha Superintendent Angelique Songco says the Chinese grounding caused double the amount of damage of the U.S. ship but there has been difficulty tracking down that vessel's owner.

In light of the two incidents, Tubbataha on Thursday issued an action plan to strengthen enforcement of its “buffer zone.”  It covers 356,000 hectares of surrounding waters.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Hogan from: USA
June 19, 2014 8:11 PM
We broke it... we need to pay for it...


by: etos from: U.S.A
June 19, 2014 12:48 PM
In philippines we had heared about police setting up and extortion tourist, we took the horse carriage, in a red light me n my wife were sorrunded by men stripped from chains n smartphone. As we were walking in drizzle,no taxi will pick you up in rain unless u pay high fee without the meter, we jump in a tricycle that said were our hotel was, was a lie, he took us to his friends and surrounded us with sticks n rocks, we ran


by: joe from: philippines
June 19, 2014 12:46 PM
Watch it philippines, dont bite the hand that feeds you


by: enforcer from: Rizal
June 19, 2014 12:41 PM
When is the Philippines going to charge and enforcer this same rule against China, look at the damage being done off the reefs from dredging, Are you Joking Pino.

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