US to dismantle vessel stuck on Philippines reef

Updated 31 January 2013
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US to dismantle vessel stuck on Philippines reef

 

 
HONOLULU: The US Navy plans to dismantle a minesweeper that ran aground on a coral reef off the Philippines because the ship is a complete loss and because removing it intact would cause more damage to the reef and the ship’s hull, a spokesman said Wednesday.
There’s also a chance the USS Guardian might break up or sink if crews tried to remove it without taking it apart first, US Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Darryn James said.
Limiting damage to the coral, which is part of a national marine park, is important to the Navy, James said.
“We really do care about being good stewards of the environment,” he said by telephone from Pacific Fleet headquarters in Pearl Harbor.
The Navy has presented the ship removal plan to the Philippines, which is reviewing it.
“We’re working very closely with the Philippine coast guard, with their navy and their government personnel. We’ve been grateful for their support as we all work together to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” James said.
It’s expected to take over a month to dismantle the Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Jan. 17.
Crews have already removed 15,000 gallons (56,780 liters) of fuel from the ship. They’ve also taken off hundreds of gallons (liters) of lubricating oil and paint. They’ll be removing human wastewater and other materials that could harm the environment, James said.
The US Navy is hiring floating cranes to help with the removal. A contractor in Singapore is sending the cranes, which should arrive on site in a few days.
The Navy originally said the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard. But now the Navy says the ship is “beyond economical repair.”
No one was injured when the ship ran aground at the reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park. The park is a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles (644 kilometers) southwest of Manila.
The Guardian was on its way to Indonesia after making a rest and refueling stop in Subic Bay, a former American naval base west of Manila.
Vice Adm. Scott Swift, the US 7th Fleet Commander based in Yokosuka, Japan, has ordered an investigation into the grounding.
The incident damaged at least 1,000 square meters, or 1,200 square yards, of coral reef, according to an initial, conservative estimate by the Philippine coast guard.
Angelique Songco, park manager of Tubbataha Reef, the damage is the worst ever in the sanctuary since the park was established in 2001.
The Navy and the US ambassador to the Philippines, Harry K. Thomas, have apologized for the grounding and promised to cooperate with its close ally.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said last week that the US Navy must explain how the ship got off course. He said the Navy would face fines for damaging the environment.
The Navy paid the state of Hawaii $8.5 million to settle claims after a much larger vessel, the USS Port Royal guided missile cruiser, damaged thousands of square yards, or thousands of square meters, of coral when it ran aground off Pearl Harbor in 2009.
Reattaching more than 5,000 broken coral colonies and otherwise restoring that reef cost the Navy more than $6.5 million.
The Guardian is 224 feet long, less than half the length of the Port Royal.
The Navy last dismantled a grounded ship in 1971, after the USS Regulus ran into trouble when a typhoon lashed Hong Kong, James said.


US builds drone base in Niger, crossroads of extremism fight

Updated 14 min 37 sec ago
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US builds drone base in Niger, crossroads of extremism fight

AGADEZ: On the scorching edge of the Sahara Desert, the US Air Force is building a base for armed drones, the newest front in America’s battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa’s vast Sahel region.
Three hangars and the first layers of a runway command a sandy, barren field. Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional early next year. The base, a few miles outside Agadez and built at the request of Niger’s government, will eventually house fighter jets and MQ-9 drones transferred from the capital Niamey. The drones, with surveillance and added striking capabilities, will have a range enabling them to reach a number of West and North African countries.
Few knew of the American military’s presence in this desperately poor, remote West African country until October, when an ambush by Daesh group-linked extremists killed four US soldiers and five Nigeriens.
The $110 million project is the largest troop labor construction project in US history, according to Air Force officials. It will cost $15 million annually to operate.
Citing security reasons, no official will say how many drones will be housed at the base or whether more US personnel will be brought to the region. Already the US military presence here is the second largest in Africa behind the sole permanent US base on the continent, in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.
The drones at the base are expected to target several different Al-Qaeda and Daesh group-affiliated fighters in countries throughout the Sahel, a sprawling region just south of the Sahara, including the area around Lake Chad, where the Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has spread.
As the US puts drones at the forefront of the fight against extremists, some worry that civilians will be mistaken for fighters.
“We are afraid of falling back into the same situation as in Afghanistan, with many mistakes made by American soldiers who did not always know the difference between a wedding ceremony and a training of terrorist groups,” said Amadou Roufai, a Nigerien administration official.
Civic leader Nouhou Mahamadou also expressed concerns.
“The presence of foreign bases in general and American in particular is a serious surrender of our sovereignty and a serious attack on the morale of the Nigerien military,” he said.
The number of US military personnel in Niger has risen over the past few years from 100 to 800, the second largest concentration in Africa after the 4,000 in Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. About 500 personnel are working on the new air and drone base and the base camp is marked with an American and Nigerien flag.
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are crucial in the fight against extremism, US Africa Command spokeswoman Samantha Reho said.
“The location in Agadez will improve US Africa Command’s capability to facilitate intelligence-sharing that better supports Niger and other partner nations, such as Nigeria, Chad, Mali and other neighbors in the region and will improve our capability to respond to regional security issues,” Reho said.
The intelligence gathered by the drones can be used by Niger and other US partners for prosecuting extremists, said Commander Brad Harbaugh, who is in charge of the new base.
Some in Niger welcome the growing US military presence in the face of a growing extremist threat in the region.
“Northern Mali has become a no man’s land, southern Libya is an incubator for terrorists and northeastern Nigeria is fertile ground for Boko Haram’s activities ... Can Niger alone ensure its own security? I think not. No country in the world can today alone fight terrorism,” said Souleymane Abdourahmane, a restaurant promoter in the capital, Niamey.
Threats include Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Mali and Burkina Faso, Daesh group-affiliated fighters in Niger, Mali and Nigeria and the Nigeria-based Boko Haram. They take advantage of the vast region’s widespread poverty and countries’ often poorly equipped security forces.
Foreigners, including a German aid worker kidnapped this month in Niger, have been targeted as well.
The US military’s use of armed drones comes as its special forces pull back from the front lines of the fight. The focus is changing to advising and assisting local partners higher up the chain of command, said US Special Command Africa commander Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks.
Ibrahim Maiga, a Mali-based researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said more needs to be known about the US military presence in the region.
“The US military footprint in the Sahel is difficult to grasp, just as it is not easy to assess its effectiveness,” he said. “There isn’t nearly enough information in the public space on this presence.”
Mud homes line the barbed wire fence at the edge of the main airport in Agadez. Residents watch the US forces come and go with curiosity.
Shebu Issa, an assistant at a Qur’anic school, stood in one doorway as goats and children roamed the sandy roads.
“It’s no big deal to us, they come and they don’t bother us. We appreciate they want to help in the fight,” he said. “We live a hard life, and don’t make much money, so we hope maybe this will help us get more.”