Navy to remove grounded minesweeper one piece at a time

JANUARY 30, 2013 — All efforts to tow the minesweeper USS Guardian off a reef in the Philippines having failed, the Navy has decided that the only way remove the ship without causing further damage to the reef is in pieces. Meantime, investigators are looking into whether faulty digital chart data might have been a factor in the grounding.

U.S. Navy salvage assessment team members board the mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian (MCM 5)

ABC News reports Capt. Darryn James, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, as saying that the Navy now plans to cut the ship into pieces to get it off the reef. Two heavy lift ship-borne cranes will arrive at the scene by Friday to begin to salvage the ship. The process is expected to take a month

USS Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef the night of January 17. The 23 year old Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship had just completed a port call in Subic Bay and was en route to Indonesia and then on to Timor-Leste to participate in a training exercise when the grounding occurred.

Tubbataha Reef, approximately 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan Island and located about 400 miles south of Manila, is both a Philippines natural park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A U.S. Navy investigation to assess the circumstances surrounding the grounding that occurred in Philippine waters will include information on faulty digital navigation chart data that misplaced the location of Tubbataha Reef.

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has provided the Navy preliminary findings of a review on Digital Nautical Charts (DNC) that contain inaccurate navigation data and may have been a factor in the grounding.

This action followed up on initial contact made by NGA  when the mapping organization first realized there might be a potential inaccuracy regarding the Tubbataha Reef digital chart. NGA has reviewed data from more than 150,000 square nautical miles in the surrounding area and found no additional errors.

Since DNC mapping is used for safe navigation by Guardian and other U.S. Navy ships, Navigator of the Navy Rear Adm. Jonathan White has released precautionary guidance to all Fleet and ship commanders. White's message states, "initial review of navigation data indicates an error in the location of Tubbataha Reef" on the digital map.

"While the erroneous navigation chart data is important information, no one should jump to conclusions," said U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Darryn James. "It is critical that the U.S. Navy conduct a comprehensive investigation that assesses all the facts surrounding the Guardian grounding."