Grounding Of USS Guardian: Implications

The running aground of the minesweeper USS Guardian in a marine reserve , the Tubbataha Reef, in the Philippines has sparked anti-US protests in the Philippines.

Grounding Of USS Guardian In Philippines: Longer-Term Implications – Analysis

The running aground of the minesweeper USS Guardian in a marine reserve in the Philippines has sparked anti-US protests in the Philippines. Longer-term problems for the US might lie in hardened attitudes towards the rights of warships in regional waters.

By Sam Bateman

THE MINESWEEPER USS Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on 17 January 2013. This reef is a marine sanctuary protected as a Philippine National Marine Park, and declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Over 1000 marine species inhabit the reef, many of which are considered to be endangered.

While no oil pollution has occurred so far, the reef in the vicinity of the ship has been seriously damaged. The ship cannot be refloated and will now be broken up where it lies. The USS Guardian was a 23-year-old Avenger-class minesweeper valued at about US$277 million.

Navigational freedoms

While the USN faces a major financial penalty due to the loss of the vessel and the costs of the salvage operation, longer-term political and strategic costs are likely. The incident has already sparked anti-US protests across the Philippines with protesters questioning the reinvigorated US military presence in their country. However, more serious consequences might lie in regional countries taking a harder line on the operations of warships in archipelagic waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZs).

The US adopts a firm position on navigational freedoms in regional waters and routinely protests rules and regulations of coastal states, including ones imposed on environmental protection grounds, which might restrict those freedoms. Some regional coastal states see this stance as disrespectful of their rights and duties in their adjacent waters, particularly in EEZs.

Accidents such as the grounding of the Guardian do not help the US position. This position is also not helped by the number of navigational accidents that the USN has experienced in recent times. In 2012 alone there were three serious accidents – the collision between the large amphibious ship USS Essex and a refueling tanker, USNS Yukon, off the coast of California in May; the collision between the guided missile destroyer USS Porter and an oil tanker outside the Strait of Hormuz in August; and the collision between the submarine USS Montpelier and the Aegis cruiser USS San Jacinto off the US East Coast in October.

While there may have been different causes of these accidents, human error, such as not properly appreciating a dangerous situation, is likely to have been a common factor.

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Source: Eurasia Review.

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