USS Guardian Grounding Investigation: Navy Commander Expresses Regret, Faulty Chart Data
The U.S. 7th Fleet Commander on Saturday expressed regret over the grounding of USS Guardian (MCM 5) on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.
"As a protector of the sea and a Sailor myself, I greatly regret any damage this incident has caused to the Tubbataha Reef," said Vice Adm. Scott Swift. "We know the significance of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and its importance as a World Heritage Site. Its protection is vital, and we take seriously our obligations to protect and preserve the maritime environment."
Swift also announced that Rear Adm. Thomas Carney, Commander of Logistics Group Western Pacific, will take over on Jan. 21 as the on-scene commander to oversee the Guardian recovery operations. Carney will embark the destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89), which along with several other U.S. Navy support vessels, is focused on preventing any further environmental damage to the reef and surrounding marine environment.
As of Jan. 20 the condition of the Guardian has not changed; the ship is still grounded with no one onboard and there are no traces of an oil slick in the area.
No one was injured during the Jan. 17 grounding, and due to a concern for personnel safety caused by hazardous weather conditions and poor sea states, essential Navy crewmembers have not yet returned to survey Guardian. Once the survey is complete, recovery efforts will commence.
When the Guardian is safely recovered by the U.S. Navy, the U.S. government will continue to work with the Republic of Philippines government to assess the extent of the damage to the reef and the surrounding marine environment caused by the grounding. The Republic of the Philippines government was promptly informed of the incident and is being updated regularly by U.S. officials.
Prior to leaving a port visit in Subic Bay, Guardian canceled a scheduled fuel stop to Puerto Princesa. Guardian departed Olongapo City en route to Indonesia and was transiting the Sulu Sea when the grounding occurred at approximately 2:25 a.m. Thursday. Based in Sasebo, Japan, the Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship remains stuck on Tubbataha Reef's south atoll, approximately 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan Island.
The U.S. Navy is undertaking an investigation to determine the exact cause of the grounding.
A U.S. Navy investigation to assess the circumstances surrounding the USS Guardian (MCM 5) grounding that occurred in Philippine waters will include information on faulty digital navigation chart data that misplaced the location of Tubbataha Reef.
On Friday, the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) provided the Navy preliminary findings of a review on Digital Nautical Charts (DNC) that contain inaccurate navigation data and may have been a factor in the Guardian grounding that occurred in the Sulu Sea on Jan. 17 Philippine time.
This action followed up on initial contact made by NGA on Thursday, when the mapping organization first realized there might be a potential inaccuracy regarding the Tubbataha Reef digital chart. NGA has reviewed data from more than 150,000 square nautical miles in the surrounding area and found no additional errors.
Since DNC mapping is used for safe navigation by Guardian and other U.S. Navy ships, Navigator of the Navy Rear Adm. Jonathan White on Friday released precautionary guidance to all Fleet and ship commanders. White's message states, "initial review of navigation data indicates an error in the location of Tubbataha Reef" on the digital map.
"While the erroneous navigation chart data is important information, no one should jump to conclusions," said U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Darryn James. "It is critical that the U.S. Navy conduct a comprehensive investigation that assesses all the facts surrounding the Guardian grounding."
U.S. 7th Fleet ships are on scene along with several support vessels to conduct salvage operations that minimize environmental effects to the reef.