MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Workers in the southwestern Philippines have removed the last major part of a U.S. Navy minesweeper from a protected coral reef where it ran aground in January, and the damage will be assessed to determine the fine Washington will pay, officials said Sunday.
A crane lifted the 250-ton stern of the dismantled USS Guardian on Saturday from the reef, where it accidentally got stuck Jan. 17, officials said. The reef, designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural arm, is located in the Tubbataha National Marine Park in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.
The doomed ship's parts will be transported to a Navy facility in Sasebo, Japan, to determine which ones can be reused and which will be junked, Philippine coast guard Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista said.
Workers were cleaning debris at the site, where American and Filipino experts this week will begin a final assessment of the reef damage, to be paid for by Washington. An initial estimate showed about 4,780 square yards of coral reef was damaged by the ship grounding, according to Tubbataha park superintendent Angelique Songco. She said it was unlikely the estimate would change significantly.
Songco said the fine would be about $600 per square meter, so the U.S. could be facing a bill of more than $2 million.
The fine will go to a fund for the upkeep of the reef, Songco said, adding scientists will inspect the reef this week to determine the best way to "rehabilitate" the damaged parts. One option is to let the reef heal by itself, which would take a long time but be less complicated. Another option is to carry out some "repairs" to the reef, which would be more costly and complicated.