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Rescuers headed for grounded minesweeper

Jan. 23, 2013 at 9:00 AM

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- A salvage ship and a Malaysian tug are within days of reaching a U.S. minesweeper grounded off the coast of the Philippines, Navy officials said Wednesday.

No one was injured when the 224-foot Avenger-class USS Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef some 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan island on Jan. 17, Stars and Stripes reported.

The ship's bow got stuck in the coral reef, a protected World Heritage Site.

As a safety precaution, the crew of the USS Guardian was removed from the vessel Friday while Navy officials continued their investigation into the grounding.

Guardian spokesman Lt. Cmdr. James Stockman said the extent of damage to the ship is currently being assessed.

"The U.S. Navy recognizes that Tubbataha Reef is a unique and treasured environment," Stockman said. "We are taking all precautions to ensure that the recovery plan will have minimal environmental damage."

Navy officials have not yet finalized their recovery plan and there is no timetable for removal despite reports that the ship has begun to take on water, Stars and Stripes said.

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