US Navy's Guardian minesweeper runs aground in Philippine sanctuary
Agence France-Presse in Manila
A US Navy minesweeper has run aground in a marine sanctuary in the Philippines, the American embassy said yesterday.
The USS Guardian ran aground on the Tubattaha Reef on Wednesday night "during normal transit", it said. The extent of the damage to the ship and the cause of the accident were still not known.
"The government of the Philippines was promptly informed of the incident and offered to assist," the embassy said.
The navy said on its website that the 68-metre vessel is based in Sasebo, southern Japan. It was not known what the ship was doing in the protected sanctuary.
Located in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometres southeast of the western island of Palawan, Tubattaha Reef is a protected sanctuary that is popular with divers. It has walls of corals and a diverse ecosystem that environmentalists say rivals that of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The US embassy statement did not say whether any coral was damaged, although it said there were no immediate reports of fuel or oil leaks. All its crew members were safe, it added.
The Philippine military also confirmed the grounding and said it was too early to say whether coral was damaged. "The most probable cause is misnavigation," said Major Oliver Banaria, a military spokesman in Palawan.
The Philippines played host to some of the US military's biggest bases in Asia until 1992, when the last troops pulled out after the Senate voted to end lease agreements. Manila ratified a visiting-forces agreement with Washington seven years later, paving the way for joint military exercises.
Some 600 US forces have been operating in the southern Philippines since 2002 to train local troops fighting against al-Qaeda-linked militants.