The grounding of the USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea in January stemmed from a “lack of leadership” on the part of the United States Navy officials, a report by the US Pacific Fleet said Friday.
In the 160-page report, Admiral Cecil Haney, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said lapses in judgement and leadership caused the grounding of the minesweeper in the marine protected sanctuary.
“USS Guardian leadership and watch teams failed to adhere to prudent, safe and sound navigation principles which would have alerted them to approaching dangers with sufficient time to take mitigating action,” Haney said.
He said the leadership and watch teams of the Guardian relied primarily on an inaccurate Digital Nautical Chart (DNC) during the planning and execution of the navigation plan, when there were “multiple, readily available sources of accurate information.”
The incident, Haney said, is a “tragic mishap” that could have been prevented if the ship’s officials addressed the various issues that cropped up during the voyage such as “poor voyage planning, poor execution and unfortunate circumstances.”
“This investigation uncovers no single point of failure; instead, there were numerous links in the error chain leading up to the grounding,” he said.
The minesweeper, which has been in service with the US Navy for 23 years, was on its way to Indonesia and Timor-Leste from a routine port call in Subic Bay when it got stuck in Tubbataha, declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) as a World Heritage Site.
It remained in the reef from January 17 until the first week of April when it was dismantled, decommissioned and stricken from the naval registry.
The grounding caused extensive damage to 2,300 square meters of the reef, which will take decades to recover.
The US government has apologized for the mishap, promised to pay for the damages, and support the reef’s rehabilitation.
The US Navy also spent more than P1 billion on salvage operations since the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009 requires them to pay about P12,000 per square meter of damaged reef and another P12,000 per square meter for rehabilitation.
Haney said the Guardian leadership “failed to exercise due diligence to ensure the watch teams were knowledgeable and proficient, and failed to recognize that key personnel transfers within the navigation team had degraded the Guardian’s navigations capability to an unacceptable level.”
Earlier, Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley, the commander of the Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7, relieved Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, the commanding officer of the Guardian, Daniel Tyler, the executive officer/navigator, the assistant navigator and the officer of the deck at the time of the accident.
Administrative actions that will be taken against the officers are still under consideration, Haney said.
BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON