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A member of the Philippine Coast Guard approaches the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, seen at the Vicinity of South Islet in Tubbataha Reefs after it ran aground in Palawan province, west of Manila in this Jan 22, 2013 handout picture provided by the Philippine Coast Guard. The USS Guardian ran aground in the Sulu Sea off the Philippines on Thursday, and was stuck on a reef, the Navy said. The ship, with a crew of 80, had just completed a port call at Subic Bay in the Philippines, when the grounding occurred. Picture taken Jan 22, 2013.[Photo/Agencies]
MANILA - Philippine President Benigno S Aquino III has approved the United States Navy's salvage operations plan, which will take place until March, on the stuck USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef off Sulu Sea, a senior official said Thursday.
"He (Aquino) has approved it," said Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang in a news briefing.
He said that Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya presented the US plan in a meeting on Wednesday.
"We have carefully reviewed the US Navy's salvage operations plan and we were assured that among their priorities is to have no further damage to the Tubbataha Reef," Abaya said in a separate statement.
Abaya said the government considered several factors and imposed certain conditions before giving clearance for the US Navy and commercial salvors it has commissioned to undertake the dismantling and vertical removal of the grounded US ship.
Under the US Navy's salvage operations plan, the USS Guardian will be cut in pieces before vertically extracting it from the site. No fuel has leaked since the grounding and all of the approximately 15,000 gallons from the vessel have been safely transferred off the ship.
"The complex and methodical salvage operations will last until next month unless weather condition within the Tubbataha reef changes that would delay the plan," Abaya said.
The minesweeper has been stuck in the World Heritage site since it ran aground on Jan 17 while enroute to its next port of call. From an initial damage of 1,000 square meters on the corals, it reportedly increased to 4,000 square meters.