Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Operation Guardian

As you can see in the picture, the USS Guardian (MCM 5) has taken a pounding as she has been hard aground on the Tabbahata Reef. On the day this photograph was taken Rear Admiral Tom Carney told the media during a press conference the ship is approximately 20-30 meters from the edge with several hull penetrations, as you can see clearly in this photograph. Over the past several days I have been accumulating as much information as possible related to the USS Guardian (MCM 5) grounding, and unfortunately, there really isn't any good news to share except that no one has been hurt by the incident.

First, I think the Rear Admiral Tom Carney has done a great job. We often discuss the diplomatic role that naval power serves for the nation, and as the fleet disperses across the world naval officers often find themselves serving in the role of a diplomat. Given the overreaction by some in the Philippines it is clear that Rear Admiral Carney has executed his role as an American diplomat with nothing but class in the face of what is obviously a challenging situation. I also very much appreciate the assistance of several PAOs in helping me track down information related to the USS Guardian (MCM 5) situation - in particular LT Anthony Falvo and LCDR Christopher Servello.

As you might imagine when a wooden ship crashes into a coral reef at about 13 knots, the ship immediately got lodged into the coral and became unable to pull out. All indications are that the little wooden minesweeper simply didn't have the engine power to pull itself off the reef, but even if she would have had enough power, backing off the reef could have caused even more damage to the wooden hull and potentially ripped the ship apart further thus sinking her right there on the reef. From what i understand, the ship took on water almost immediately upon grounding. In many ways, this is a worse case scenario where a wooden ship meets coral and loses, where as a steel hulled vessel with more engine power likely would have suffered much less damage and would potentially have been able to dislodge itself.

USS Guardian (MCM 5) is flooded internally to the tide line, with the Auxiliary Machine Room and Pump Room completely flooded. There is coral underneath the hull in both the Auxiliary Machine Room and the Engine Room. The internal bulkhead between the Auxiliary Machine Room and the Engine Room is no longer water tight, and the several internal bulkheads are slowly losing integrity. There are also several cracks in the superstructure, and as you can see in the photo there are several holes in the hull along the length of the ship.

Because even US Navy ships made of wood are well built and engineered for survivability, and despite all the damage the ship has taken being stranded on the reef for over 10 days, no fuel apparently leaked from the fuel tanks, and the tug Vos Apollo has removed all of the fuel and replaced the fuel with seawater to keep the ship stable on the reef. All indications are that all hazardous materials have been removed from USS Guardian (MCM 5), and as of Saturday the ship was not in immediate danger of a catastrophic failure. The latest news today is that the Navy continues to remove everything possible from the ship that can be removed safely.

In a press conference on January 24, 2013 Rear Admiral Tom Carney told media the ship could not be towed off the reef or to port, indeed he specifically said the ship would likely sink if they tried. The ship must be lifted off the reef and carried via ship back to port. SMIT owns the NAVSEA 00C salvage contract for the Pacific region, and SMIT Borneo and SMIT Cyclone are reportedly en-route to USS Guardian (MCM 5) to salvage and recover the vessel. While the Navy is yet to publicly say so, the ship is almost certainly lost, and this will almost certainly be a salvage and recovery operation primarily designed to protect the Tabbahata Reefs National Park, and not recover the ship for future use.

On location is the guided missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) with embarked helo det; the oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62); the rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52); M/V Trabajador; and the Malaysian tug VOS Apollo in supporting operations. P-3s from Commander Task Force 72 are also supporting with daily overflights. SMIT Cyclone (1,000-ton crane), the SMIT Borneo (500-ton crane), and the SMIT Andaman (barge) are en route from Singapore and should arrive on Friday. As of last week the Navy was also investigating the availability of Jasper 25 (PDF) for salvage and recovery operations, but I have not heard a status on that. Regardless, none of these crane vessels will be capable of lifting Guardian intact, which again informs us where this is likely going.

For those interested in the digital map issue, several in this community have been contributing to this discussion over at Panbo. Not only is the post interesting, but the comments are very informative.

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