Navy Ship Coral Reef Grounding Fine Will Be $1.4 Million, Philippines Says

A Navy ship that crashed onto a coral reef caused $1.4 million in damages that the United States will be expected to repay. That’s the statement from Tubbataha National Marine Park, Philippines superintendent Angelique Songco, who said that she based the price on evidence that the USS Guardian damaged 25, 240 square feet of UNESCO World Heritage coral reef in the remote Sulu Sea.

She said that the Philippines would file a formal request with the US embassy next week and that the amount wasn’t excessive or dishonest. She said that the island nation was simply assessing the actual costs of damage to the living coral reef, which is the country’s most productive and is considered a vital food resource.

The incident has been something of a scandal ever since the $300 million Navy minesweeper went aground on the reef on January 17. The Navy ship was wedged so tightly into the coral reef after the collision that it had to be completely dismantled, a salvage operation that reportedly cost $45 million and wasn’t completed until March 30.

“A mistake was made there,” retired three-star admiral Joe Sestak reportedly said. While the Navy hasn’t given details about exactly what that mistake might have been, there’s not much question that somebody did something wrong and the Navy is pretty hot about it. The commanding officer, as well as three crewmembers, have been relieved of their duties while the investigation continues into exactly what happened.

The world’s coral reefs have been having a tough time lately.

Half of the Great Barrier Reef has vanished in less than 30 years. A recent report said that the Caribbean coral reefs were essentially almost dead, at least in part because of global warming that made the already warm waters too hot for living coral.

That’s what made the remote Tubbataha National Marine Park so special. As the Philippine’s largest protected marine park, it provided safe haven not just for more than 350 species of coral but for hundreds of species of fish, marine mammals like whales and dolphins, and even rare sea turtles.

The park’s page currently describes the grounding as an event that turned “4,000 square metres of healthy corals into rubble.”

It seems unlikely that any amount of money can fully restore the coral reef scraped off by the Navy ship. Coral reefs grow slowly — at most a few inches a year. But it’s a start.

[Navy ship photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark R. Alvarez/Released) via Flickr]