Salvage teams working on cutting the hull of the USS Guardian are facing a tough task to complete the mission within six straight days of good weather in order not to further damage the Tubbataha Reef.
Task Force Tubbataha head Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista said salvors could only proceed with the hull removal as long as there are no weather disturbances for a week.
“Once they cut the hull, the hull would be exposed and there is a possibility that, if their work would be interrupted by unfavorable weather conditions, parts from inside the ship would flow out from inside the USS Guardian’s hull and further damage the reef,” he said.
Evangelista, who is also Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Palawan district commander, added that, “in cutting the hull the salvors require six continuous days of good weather conditions.”
This latest development on the salvage work resulted to the extension of the March 23 deadline set by the U.S Navy.
“It is no longer the deadline. Our concerns are the safety of the salvors and the careful removal of the USS Guardian to prevent further damage to the atoll. The life of the salvors is our paramount concern,” he said.
The task force, however, has yet to announce the new target date for the complete removal of the US Navy minesweeper from the Tubbataha Reef.
It is also not clear whether or not salvage operations will continue during the long Holy Week break.
“We have no information yet whether or not they will work during the Holy Week. That is something to be discussed by Task Force Tubbataha,” PCG spokesperson Commander Armand Balilo said.
At the moment, the salvage personnel are busy clearing the 68-meter long, 12-meter width hull from debris and loose equipment. They have also placed holes on the hull for the lifting cables.
Balilo said the strong points in the hull were identified for the rigging of the cable that will be used in the lifting of the watertight part of the ship.
“They are being very careful in the actual cutting of the hull to ensure that the coral reefs will not be damaged,” he said.