U.S. faces fines for coral reef damage

Jan. 31, 2013 at 7:58 AM

MANILA, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The United States could face fines of about $90 per square foot of damaged coral after a minesweeping vessel became grounded in the Philippines, officials said.

The USS Guardian has been stuck on the Tubbataha Reef, which is part of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Sulu Sea since Jan. 17. The reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Grace Barber, an administrator with the park's management office, said the U.S. Navy vessel committed at least three violations when it struck the reef. The minesweeper did not obtain permission to enter the park, it did not pay a fee for entering the park and it obstructed the work of park rangers, she told The New York Times.

"The rangers have a protocol," Barber said. "They are required to board and inspect every boat that enters the park. When the rangers asked the U.S. warship for permission to board, they were told to call the U.S. embassy."

Additionally, the United States could be fined $90 per square foot of damage done to the coral reefs. An early estimate said 10,763 square feet of coral had been damaged.

Lt. Cmdr. James Stockman, a U.S. Navy public affairs officer, said the United States has sought permission from the Philippine Coast Guard to scrap the $277 million minesweeper to avoid further damage to the reefs by towing it out.

"The plan is to dismantle the ship into three pieces and remove the sections by crane," he said.

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