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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rants : The Tubbataha Reef US Navy Ship Stranding Incident - A Lesson for Arrogance

The USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper ship stranded at the Tubbataha Reef
The US Navy's USS Guardian minesweeper ship stranding in the Tubbataha Reef at Sulu Sea, a protected  and UN World Heritage Site marine park and coral reef, is getting to be biggest news of the week. The incident is also causing a big embarrassment to the US Embassy in Manila and the US Navy, the mightiest naval army in the world.  

Initially, the incident was seen as an accident, but as the days passed by, there seems to be more to the accident than meets the eye. It was unfortunate that the ship's stranding had caused a big damage to the protected coral formation of Tubbataha Reef. It is estimated that approximately one thousand square meters of coral formations were damaged or destroyed. The damage is also irreparable, because coral reef formations take thousands of years to grow.

It would be understandable if the US Navy ship was stranded because of strong sea currents or was rerouting its path due to bad weather and got lost. But this was not the case. The seas around the Tubbataha Reef are shallow due to expansive coral formations. This area is not used as a shipping lane. And it is a regulated and protected area, where special permits are required to enter. With their humongous ship at that, the US Navy should not have entered the area. It's dangerous for the ship, and the ship's keel is potentially damaging to the coral reef. The US Navy should know, and surely, they know that. But still, they went inside the forbidden zone. Maybe they  thought they are the best in sea navigation and they have the best ship. After all, they are the US Navy, the world's best. 

But the stars and the planets didn't favor them that day, their ship got stuck and stranded in the the coral reef, the Tubbataha Reef- a World Heritage Site. The irony of it is that their ship is a minesweeper and equipped with the most sophisticated, state of the art equipment : radar, sonar and satellite GPS (Global Positioning System) that could detect the minutest "anomaly"on the surface and under the sea. And these giant  coral formations should have been easily detected by these equipment. But these equipment didn't help them dodge the coral formations.

Now here's the catch. Before the minesweeper ship went astray, rammed the corals and got stranded in the reef, the ship's navigators were warned by the Tubbataha Reef marine park rangers :
"The Tubbataha marine park superintendent, Angelique Songco, said Monday that park rangers had warned the USS Guardian by radio that it was nearing the reef, but the ship captain insisted they raise their complaint with the US embassy." (Quoted from a news article from 

While the investigation is now going on to find out why the incident happened, public speculations abound as to the reason why the ship was stranded in the Tubbataha Reef. People are saying  the stranding incident could be attributed to any of the following : incompetence of the navigators, mechanical malfunction of the ship, electronic equipment malfunction, wrong sea map used, satellite GPS malfunction, etc, etc. But any of the above reasons  mentioned will not hold water. Why? Because before entering the reef area they were warned and they ignored the warning.

We don't need to be a genius to know the cause of the stranding. It was simply arrogance! Next time, the best navy in the world should heed warnings, even if the warning comes from a citizen of a third world country. Let's just hope they learned their lesson this time.

Picture Source :
Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command

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