USS Guardian (MCM-5)
USS Guardian underway in November 2002.
|Laid down:||8 May 1985|
|Launched:||20 June 1987|
|Commissioned:||16 December 1989|
|Decommissioned:||15 February 2013|
|Struck:||15 February 2013|
|Motto:||"Forerunner of Freedom"|
|Status:||Cut up and scrapped after grounding|
|Class and type:||Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship|
|Displacement:||1,367 long tons (1,389 t)|
|Length:||224 ft (68 m) o/a|
|Beam:||39 ft (12 m)|
|Draft:||13 ft (4.0 m)|
|Speed:||14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)|
|Complement:||6 officers and 75 enlisted|
USS Guardian (MCM-5) was an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship of the United States Navy, and was the second Navy ship to bear that name. The hulls of the Avenger-class ships are constructed of wood with an external coat of fiberglass.
Guardian was laid down on 8 May 1985 by Peterson Builders, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin; launched on 20 June 1987; and commissioned on 16 December 1989. In 2010, she became the first mine countermeasures vessel in the Seventh Fleet modified for a mixed-sex crew, with separate head facilities.
On 17 January 2013, Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef, in a protected area of the Philippines in the middle of the Sulu Sea. The vessel was turned and pushed further onto the reef by wave action. Unable to be recovered, the vessel was decommissioned and struck from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register on 15 February 2013. After removal of fuel and useful equipment, and after the upper superstructure was cut and lifted off of the minehunter, the wooden hull was sequentially chainsawed into four sections and lifted off of the reef by the dynamic positioning crane vessel MV Jascon 25. The bow section was cut and removed by crane on 26 March 2013. It was originally planned to cut the hull into three pieces, but the stern section had to be cut in half again. The last stern section was removed by crane from Tubbataha Reef on 30 March 2013.
In late November 2007, USS Guardian and sister minesweeper USS Patriot sought refueling and refuge from an approaching storm in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, but were denied entry without explanation by the People's Republic of China. Both ships were eventually refueled at sea and returned safely to their homeports in Japan.
In February 2010, USS Guardian became the first mine countermeasures vessel in the Seventh Fleet to receive the Women-at-Sea modification, which was intended to allow the small vessel to accommodate a mixed-sex crew. The modification added no additional sleeping space, but did provide for separate head facilities for female crew members. However, with the exception of a very few officers, all mine countermeasures vessels in the Seventh Fleet were still manned by all-male crews at that time.
January 2013 grounding
On 17 January 2013, following a port call and fuel stop in Subic, Guardian proceeded across the Sulu Sea and entered the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park where she grounded at 2:25 am. About 90 minutes after the grounding she was seen on park radar, at approximately 04:00 hours local time. Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef about 130 kilometres (70 nmi) south east of Palawan in the Philippines. At the time of the accident the ship was travelling from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Indonesia. The extent of any damage to the reef was unknown, but there was no evidence that there was a fuel oil leak. Philippines officials later estimated the damage to the reef at 1,000 square meters.
The next day, on 18 January 2013, the U.S. Navy evacuated all 79 crew members from the minesweeper to the USNS Bowditch and MV C Champion. In recognition of his actions in evacuating the sailors aboard Guardian, Petty Officer Travis Kirckof, a mineman aboard USS Guardian and one of the two assigned Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmers, was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on 11 April 2014. Petty Officer Kirckof stayed in the shark-filled water for almost five hours to assist his shipmates in the evacuation to the nearby reef, saving at least two lives.
On 19 January 2013, an assessment team was deployed to plan and execute the vessel's extraction. On 20 January 2013, Navy Times reported the ship was taking on water in multiple places and was experiencing a slight list to port.
Originally, only the bow section of Guardian rested on the reef, but wave action pushed the entire vessel onto the reef, 20 to 30 metres (66 to 98 ft) from the edge. The guided missile destroyer USS Mustin, the oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch and the rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor arrived in the area to help in the intended extraction, as well as tugboats and Philippine navy and coast guard vessels. It was intended for Guardian to be removed from the area by crane ships from Singapore and then be placed on a barge or other ship, since the ship was too damaged to be towed, due to multiple hull penetrations.  During the time that the cranes made their journey from Singapore to the Philippines, preparations were made for the lift. 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel were extracted from the tanks in Guardian to other ships that were on station and refilled with seawater to keep the vessel stable. Dry food stores and the personal effects of Guardian's crew were removed as well. Salvage experts began to reinforce the wood-and-fiberglass hull of the minesweeper with Kevlar lines to mitigate stresses from waves hitting the vessel. Salvage experts from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One and Smit Salvage then systematically cut the superstructure and wooden hull of the ship into pieces that were lifted off of the reef.
On 29 January 2013, the United States Navy announced that the ship would be cut into three sections on the reef prior to removal, resulting in the total loss of the $227 million vessel. USS Guardian was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 February 2013. On 27 February 2013, salvage crews began to disassemble Guardian, a process originally estimated to take a month. The bridge deck was removed on 4 March 2013. On 30 March 2013, the stern section of the ship was lifted off the reef, completing the removal process.
On 8 April 2013 it was reported that the U.S. Navy had turned over digital navigation charts and other relevant documents and data of Guardian to the Philippine Maritime Casualty Investigating Team (MCIT) and responded to various "technical and substantive" queries. The MCIT will conduct its own independent investigation and make recommendations about how to avoid such incidents in the future. On 26 July 2013 it was reported that a chart produced by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency was inaccurate by up to 8 nautical miles (15 km; 9.2 mi). This chart was used by the crew of the Guardian, and played a significant role in the grounding. However, significant errors by the crew and commanding officers were also reported, including that they should have noted the inaccuracies in comparison to other charts.
Original estimates were that 4,000 square metres (43,000 sq ft) of reef was damaged but a survey done after removal, by the World Wide Fund for Nature–Philippines and the Tubbataha Management Office, measured the damage area at 2,345.67 square metres (25,248.6 sq ft). On January 20, 2015, the United States Government paid to the Philippine government a total of 87 million Philippine pesos, or US$1.97 million – 59 million Philippine pesos for the damage and another 29 million pesos to reimburse for services provided by the Philippine Coast Guard.
The U.S. Federal Government apologized for the incident and relieved four officers: LCDR Mark Rice, Commanding Officer; LT Daniel Tyler, Executive Officer; the Lieutenant (j.g.) who was Officer of the Deck; and a QMC who was Assistant Navigator and Quartermaster of the Watch at the time of the mishap. "The initial investigation findings clearly indicate that (the four) at the time of the grounding did not adhere to standard US Navy navigation procedures," the Manila Bulletin quoted the U.S. Navy as saying. The U.S. Government has acknowledged that the grounding was entirely preventable and caused by human error and a failure of leadership to provide adequate oversight and direction in planning and executing the Navigation Plan.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) admitted that the coastal scale Digital Nautical Chart (DNC) supplied to USS Guardian was flawed due to human error on the part of the NGA. This was an error that mislocated the Tubbataha Reef by 7.8 nautical miles (14.4 km; 9.0 mi) east-southeast of its actual location. NGA was aware of this error in 2011 and updated a smaller scale electronic chart. NGA failed to publish a correction for the larger scale chart that the USS Guardian was using when she ran aground. However, the Navy has never disclosed why USS Guardian was transiting into these restricted waters in the first instance.
- Navy Unit Commendation
- Meritorious Unit Citation (2 awards)
- Navy E Ribbon (6 awards)
- Combat Action Ribbon
- National Defense Service Medal with star
- Southwest Asia Service Medal with one campaign star
- Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
- Jascon 25 - DP3 Pipelay Construction vessel, 4 page PDF
- "China's Port-Visit Denial Troubles Navy Admirals". The Washington Post. 28 November 2007. p. A04. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
- Elena L. Aben (17 January 2013). "US Warship Runs Aground in Tubbataha". Archived from the original on 20 January 2013.
- Bob Couttie (23 January 2013). "USS Guardian Not Warned Before Grounding". Maritime Accident Casebook. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
- Agence France-Presse (17 January 2013). "US minesweeper stuck on reef off Philippines". ABC News. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
- Ian Johnston (17 January 2013). "US Navy ship stuck on reef nearly a day after running aground off Philippines". NBC News. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
- Brad Lendon (18 January 2013). "Crew evacuated from Navy minesweeper stuck on Philippine reef". CNN. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
- Agence France-Presse (17 January 2013). "U.S. Minesweeper Runs Aground in Philippines". Defense News. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
- Brad Lendon (25 January 2013). "U.S. warship must be lifted off Philippine reef Minesweeper grounded on reef last week, has taken on water". CNN. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- Eric Sesit (11 April 2014). "Guardian SAR swimmer awarded for heroism". Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
- "US Navy sends assessment team for extraction of marooned minesweeper". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 19 January 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Christpher P. Cavas (20 January 2013). "Stranded Navy Minesweeper Taking on Water". Navy Times. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
- Brad Lendon (25 January 2013). "U.S. Navy warship will have to be lifted off Philippine reef". CNN. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- Manila Bulletin (25 January 2013). "Grounded 'USS Guardian' Transferring Hazardous Materials; Fuel Draining Complete". Yahoo news. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- Brad Lendon (28 January 2013). "Seawater pumped into U.S. warship to keep it stable on reef". CNN. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- Luis Martinez (29 January 2013). "Stuck Minesweeper to Be Cut into Pieces". ABC News. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
- "SALVAGE CREWS BREAK UP US NAVY SHIP IN PHILIPPINES". Yahoo News. Agence France-Presse. 27 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- "USS Guardian salvage workers make progress, remove bridge deck". GMA News. 4 March 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
- Knight, Matt (30 March 2013). "Final piece of grounded USS Guardian lifted from Philippine reef". News Channel 3 (WTKR.com). Retrieved 31 March 2013.
- Beth Ford Roth (26 February 2013). "San Diego-Based USS Warrior To Replace USS Guardian". KPBS. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
- SDR/Sunnex (8 April 2013). "US Navy turns over USS Guardian's data to Manila's probing team". Sun-Star. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
- Yap, DJ (7 April 2013). "'Not a penny over $1.4M for Tubbataha damage'". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
- Lee-Brago, Pia (Feb 19, 2015). "US pays P87 M for Tubbataha damage". Philippine Star. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
- "Command Investigation into the Grounding of USS Guardian (MCM 5) on Tubbataha Reef, Republic of the Philippines That Occurred on 17 January 2013" (PDF). Commander, U. S. Pacific Fleet, FOIA Reading Room. Commander, U. S. Pacific Fleet. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
- PNA (5 April 2013). "4 Ex-USS guardian officers relieved". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
- "US Navy ship removed from Tubbataha Reef". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 30 March 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
- "USS Guardian And The Ghost Islands – Human Error Moved Reef". Maritime Accident. January 30, 2013.
- "USS Guardian probe report evades key issues, raises more questions". GeoGarage. June 28, 2013.
- "FOIR Response, USS Guardian (MCM 5) Grounding - National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and Dept. of Navy Memorandums" (8 documents, 11 pg. PDF). January 18–30, 2013.
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