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Guardian salvage delayed another week as crane found inadequate

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Efforts to salvage the grounded USS Guardian have been pushed back yet another week as crews failed to successfully anchor a salvage crane near the minesweeper, officials said Tuesday.

The contracted crane Smit Borneo arrived Feb. 3 from Singapore and has not been able to safely anchor three of four mooring legs due to 16-to-24-knot winds, the resulting waves and issues with the slope of the sea floor, U.S. Navy and Philippine Coast Guard officials said.

Operations were slated to begin as soon as the Navy’s salvage plan was approved by the Philippine Coast Guard last week but must now wait until Saturday and the arrival of a more capable crane, the Jascon 25, according to a Coast Guard official who asked to remain anonymous. The salvage operation is expected to take two months and cost at least $25 million.

“We have known the salvage operation would be a dynamic operation from the beginning,” Navy spokesman Lt. Frederick Martin told Stars and Stripes via email Tuesday. “This is a dynamic environment where weather and sea states can change quickly, so it would be speculative to discuss specific time lines on the dismantling process.

“While the inability of the Smit Borneo to be moored affects the plan, we are adjusting our operations accordingly, including bringing in the second crane, Jascon 25, earlier than originally planned. Jascon 25 is already underway and moving toward the site.”

Martin said he could not provide a copy of the salvage plan as it was being revised. Philippine Coast Guard officials also declined but said work to cut up the Guardian and start removing it would start with the arrival of the Jascon 25.

The Jascon 25 has a higher lift capacity than the Smit Borneo and a dynamic positioning system, which allows it to operate without anchoring, Martin said. The Smit Borneo will remain on site to aid in the salvage efforts.

No one was injured when the Guardian ran aground around 2:25 a.m. on Jan. 17 while transiting the Sulu Sea after a port visit in Subic Bay. The crew of 79 was removed the next day as a safety precaution.

Over the past month, the 224-foot minesweeper has slid around on Tubbataha Reef, a World Heritage Site, damaging the reef and causing hull breaches.

The grounding sparked protests outside the U.S. Embassy, and Philippine officials have called for the U.S. Navy and government to pay stiff fines. Navy officials have said the ship is a complete loss.

Reef managers said they agree with the decision to delay.

“At this point, there isn’t much additional coral damage inflicted on the reef as the ship is more or less fast on the coral bed. Hopefully it does not break up into pieces due to rough seas,” park administrator Angelique Songco said.

burkem@pstripes.osd.mil

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