U.S. minesweeper hull removed from reef

March 30, 2013 at 10:13 PM

MANILA, March 30 (UPI) -- Salvage personnel Saturday removed the final 250-ton section of a U.S. Navy minesweeper's hull from a reef in the Philippines, Navy officials said.

The 1,312-ton USS Guardian ran onto the Tubbataha Reef in January. Efforts to free it failed, forcing its demolition.

"As the hull has been removed, the team is now shifting their effort to collecting minor debris that remains on the reef," Capt. Mark Matthews, supervisor of salvage, said. "We also have a collaborative team from the U.S. and the Philippines beginning to assess the condition of the reef."

The salvage operation also includes removing any potentially harmful materials, including petroleum-based products, human wastewater and other wreckage debris.

"Every salvage operation presents unique challenges," Matthews said. "It has been difficult to extract the Guardian without causing further damage to the reef, but the U.S. Navy and SMIT salvage team, with support from other companies and the government of the Philippines, have really done a superb job. I could not be more proud."

The Navy said in a release on its website that no fuel has leaked since the grounding and all of the approximately 15,000 gallons aboard the ship were safely transferred off it early on.

"We continue to work closely with the Philippine coast guard, navy and Tubbataha Reef Park rangers, and we are grateful for the support we have received to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef," Matthews said.

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