HONOLULU - The U.S. Navy is hiring floating cranes to help with the dismantling and removal of a minesweeper that ran aground on coral reef off the Philippines, a spokesman said Wednesday.
A contractor in Singapore is sending the cranes, which should arrive on site in a few days, said U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Darryn James said.
It's expected to take over a month to dismantle the USS Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Jan. 17.
Crews have already removed 15,000 gallons of fuel from the ship. They've also taken off hundreds of gallons of lubricating oil and paint. They'll be removing human wastewater and other materials that could harm the environment, James said.
The Navy originally said the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard. But James says damage to the ship is "beyond economical repair" and the Navy now plans to dismantle the ship before it's removed.
Taking the ship apart will allow the Navy to limit damage the salvage operation causes the reef, James said.
"That is important to us," James said by telephone from Pacific Fleet's headquarters in Pearl Harbor. The Navy cares about being good environmental stewards and regrets the incident, he said.
The Navy has presented the ship removal plan to the Philippines, which is reviewing it.
"We're working very closely with the Philippine coast guard, with their navy and their government personnel. We've been grateful for their support as we all work together to remove guardian and minimize further damage to the reef," James said.
No one was injured when the ship ran aground at the reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park. The park is a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.
The Guardian was on its way to Indonesia after making a rest and refueling stop in Subic Bay, a former American naval base west of Manila.
Vice Adm. Scott Swift, the U.S. 7th Fleet Commander based in Yokosuka, Japan, has ordered an investigation into the grounding.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said last week that the U.S. Navy must explain how the ship got off course. He said the Navy would face fines for damaging the environment.
The Navy and the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Harry K. Thomas, have apologized for the grounding and promised to cooperate with its close ally.