Sunday, January 20, 2013



 Journalists from the Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote as follows

Wikipeida Photo

"Save reef not US ship, says PH government
By Marlon Ramos, Gil Cabacungan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Monday, January 21st, 2013
The United States Navy has sent 10 American divers to assess the situation and brought in two private salvor ships to try to extricate its minesweeper that got stuck on Tubbataha Reef, a world-renowned marine sanctuary in the Sulu Sea, the Philippine Navy said on Sunday.

Environmentalists have expressed worry the extraction may damage the reef more. Palawan Gov. Abraham Mitra called on Philippine authorities to take charge of the operation so that priority could be given to saving the coral reef rather than the US ship.

Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Favic, US Navy spokesperson, said the American divers were accompanied by nine Philippine Coast Guard personnel aboard the Navy’s BRP Mangyan.

The divers, who took off from Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, were tasked to find the best way to free the trapped US warship, the USS Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Thursday".

 We couldn't disagree more simply because saving the ship is the best way to protect the reef. We have participated in re-floating and salvage operations and marine environmental mitigation operations.  Ships, any ship, any size are full of toxic material that can't be easily removed. "lightering  (off loading) fuel can sometimes be done under circumstances similar to that which the USS GUARDIAN is now situated, but the operation requires a tank vessel capable of taking on the fuel and it has to be done within the available weather window. We don't know if such is available or the weather conditions that may be expected in the tank vessel's transit time. WE don't know the tank vessel's transit time or even if such a vessel is available.  But everyone can be sure that the salvage master on scene knows these things and will make his decision accordingly. But the tone of the article quoted above seem to be that the priority should be get the oil off and refloat the ship only if it can be done without further damage to the coral.

 Our study of sunken vessels in such situations informs us that such hulks once negatively buoyant follow slowly the pull of gravity until they rest on a level bottom. sunk on a coral head the brittle coral gives way and is pulverized in unexpected and unpredictable ways with the damage taking years, sometimes decades to finally deliver the hull to its final resting place. Aboard such wrecks , even in the best of circumstances where most of the fuel or liquid cargo has been transferred before the vessel sank, the lubricants associated with the machinery leech out for years, sometimes decades. As the hull disintegrates, toxic materials used as insulation or heat shielding are exposed to free moving ocean waters. Metal components in such hulks as silver and aluminum used in the electronics leech toxic traces as they disintegrate in the sea. Some materials in the hull thought inert, actually become toxic when they are no longer isolated by metal housing and come into contact with other substances . The consequences of allowing the GUARDIAN to sink on or in the vicinity of the reef are unpredictable and do not lend themselves to ready quantification. What we absolutely know is that the consequences are great and long lasting.

 By contrast re-floating the ship intact eliminates all of the hazards associated with her sinking. More over by considering the ships length, breath, and draft a reasonable estimate can be made of the mechanical damage doe to the reef. It may take the coral hundreds of years to recover from the crushing damage, but the corals won't be working against a slowing settling hull doing more damage for decades at a faster rate than the coral can build, The coral also won't have to be working in a toxic environment. There have been a number of reef restorations done around the world in recent times. Our own NOAA Corps led an effort not long ago on an American Pacific Island territory. The Philippines already has a set fine per cubic foot of coral damaged. This all suggests that if we can limit the damage to the crushing damage done by a partially afloat hull we can come to a quick settlement on remediation costs. Quick settlements translates to quickest application of such man made measure as best protects the coral as it heals.

 The bottom line is that only rank amateurs would think that some conflict of interest exist between re-floating the ship and the maximum preservation of the coral. Rapid re-floating and removal of the ship from the area is the single best damage mitigation strategy, period. Unfortunately journalists who work for general interest publications are often required to write about subjects that they are unfamiliar with. These general interest publications as opposed to professional trade journals,  drive public opinion and public opinion can have dramatic effects on political decisions. In the end the salvage master on scene, his assistants, the divers , and mariners of both the U.S. Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard know what they are doing but being military have politicians as over lords.  The last thing this coral reef needs is tactical salvage decisions driven by politicians as opposed to maritime professionals.

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