SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Guardian’s command element and several technical experts were reunited with the rest of the crew Friday afternoon as the Navy continued salvage operations on their stricken minesweeper stuck on a reef off the coast of the Philippines.

Most of the Guardian’s crew arrived home to Sasebo on Jan. 28 aboard the USNS Rappahannock, but their command element, including commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, executive officer Lt. Daniel Tyler and several technical experts stayed behind to help with the salvage operation.

Rice, Tyler and other essential personnel returned to Sasebo on Friday aboard the destroyer USS Mustin, CTF-76 commander Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley told Stars and Stripes. Harley said no decisions have been made on the fate of the crew or the number of mine countermeasure ships in the Pacific.

The Navy has made mental health and family support services available to the crew, Harley said.

“This completes the reintegration of the crew in its entirety,” Harley said. “They will continue efforts in training for future operations.”

No one was injured when the Avenger-class ship 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.

The Navy plans to cut the ship into pieces to remove it from Tubbataha Reef, a World Heritage Site. The process could take two months and cost about $25 million. The Navy and the Philippine government are conducting separate inquiries into the grounding.

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