On the 29th of January the ‘USS Guardian’, a mine countermeasures ship of the US Navy, grounded on the North Western tip of the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea. The prevailing North East monsoon, sea and swell impacting on the vessel were causing her to move up on the reef and she was deteriorating, hence a swift operation was required to avoid the risk of pollutants being released into the environment.
SMIT Salvage was awarded the contract to provide emergency response and recovery operations. Firstly, the salvage team removed 15,000 gallons of fuel from the vessel, preventing any major pollution to the reef. All ordnance and munitions were then removed by the US Navy before the second stage of the operation started: the removal of the wreck by cutting the hull into four sections before lifting them on the barge.
Each part weighted about 250 tons. The parts were jointly cut by the salvage team and US Navy divers using chain and reciprocating saws, plus hydraulically driven tools. Lifting was done by the DP crane ship 'Jascon 25'. Other support vessels deployed during the operation included the 'USNS Safeguard', the SMIT crane barge 'Smit Borneo' and several tugs and barges. This operation was carried out without any further damage to the reef or marine environment.