Although salvage work on the grounded minesweeper USS Guardian may be more than 50 percent complete, the Coast Guard said Saturday it is bracing for the "critical" next phase, which may take some time.
Task Force Tubbataha head Commodore Enrico Evangelista said the next phase
involves cutting up the hull and removing it from the reef.
"Itong part na lang na hull, (pero) kailangan nito anim na araw diretso na magandang sea condition. Baka dito tayo magtatagal nang kaunti (The next phase is to remove the hull but we will need at least six straight days of good sea conditions. This may take a while.)," Evangelista said in an interview on dzBB radio.
So far, he said they have removed much of the ship, including parts of its engines.
He also said there has so far been no major problem threatening the ongoing salvage operations.
Evangelista added tourist divers have been "understanding" and cooperative of the 500-meter radius safety zone around the operation site.
When asked if some tourist divers had attempted to get near the salvage area, he said, "so far wala naman (none so far)."
"Naintindihan nila kailangan ipatupad ang safety zone na yan (They understand the need for a safety zone)," he said.
The USS Guardian ran aground off Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17. The Tubbataha Management Office estimates it may have damaged at least 4,000 square meters of the reef.