- The grounded U.S. Navy minesweeper was removed from a Philippine reef Saturday
- The Guardian is estimated to have damaged about 4,000 square meters of the reef
- The USS Guardian ran aground on January 17
The Guardian is gone. What was left of the former U.S. Navy minesweeper was lifted off a Philippine reef on Saturday.
"The stern was lifted around 1:50 p.m.," Philippine Coast Guard Palawan District head Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista told the state-run Philippine News Agency.
It was the last of the four sections of the wood and fiberglass hull the USS Guardian had been cut into in the effort to remove it from where it ran aground on January 17.
The 250-ton stern segment was placed aboard a waiting barge.
"As the hull has been removed, the team is now shifting their effort to collecting minor debris that remains on the reef," the head of the salvage operation, Navy Capt. Mark Matthews, said in a statement.
"We also have a collaborative team from the U.S. and the Philippines beginning to assess the condition of the reef."
The Guardian is estimated to have damaged about 4,000 square meters (about 43,000 square feet) of the reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to about 500 species of fish and 350 species of coral, as well as whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and breeding seabirds.
The Navy has pledged to clean up the debris created when waves stripped off pieces of fiberglass covering the wooden hull of the ship and to try to restore the reef as much as possible.
"(With this complete) the second phase which is the assessment and recovery phase (for the damaged reef) begins," Evangelista said.
"Every salvage operation presents unique challenges. 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," Matthews said. "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."
An investigation into the grounding is ongoing, but Navy officials said in January that the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which prepares the digital navigation charts used by the Navy, has reported the location of the reef was misplaced on a chart by nine miles.
While the removal of the stern from the reef may visually mark the end of the Guardian, the ship was officially stricken from the U.S. Navy registry in February. Navy communications now refer to it as the Ex-Guardian. It has been replaced in the Pacific by the USS Warrior, which arrived at the U.S. naval base in Sasebo, Japan, earlier this month. The Guardian's crew will take over operation of the Warrior.