MANILA -- The United States ambassador to the Philippines apologized Friday for the grounding of an American naval ship on a reef in a marine sanctuary, the latest in a string of embarrassing episodes for the United States military in the country at a time when the administration is pushing a "pivot" to Asia and the American military has increased its presence in the Philippines.
"I wish to convey to the Philippine government and people my profound regret over the grounding of the U.S.S. Guardian on Tubbataha Reef," the American ambassador, Harry K. Thomas Jr., said in a statement issued Friday about the Jan. 17 accident that left the ship listing in the water.
The area struck by the minesweeper is a Unesco World Heritage site, and is described by the organization as "a pristine coral reef" that is home to more than 350 species of coral and almost 500 types of fish.
"This is the collateral damage from the U.S. military presence in our country," said Bobby Tuazon, the director of policy studies at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, based in Manila. "What were they doing there in the first place? This is a World Heritage site."
The minesweeper crashed into the reef after a refueling stop at Subic Bay and as it was on its way to Indonesia, according to the Navy. The Navy has said the ship was using digital navigation charts that turned out to be faulty, according to a preliminary review, though an investigation into the cause of the accident is continuing.
Opinion in the country on the increased military presence, which includes port visits by naval ships, is split. President Benigno S. Aquino III has welcomed it as a counterbalance to what is viewed by many Filipinos as aggressive actions by China in the South China Sea. The Philippines and China have multiple overlapping territorial claims in the area and the two countries have engaged in tense maritime standoffs while asserting their sovereignty over contested areas.
But others Filipinos remain wary more than 20 years after the shuttering of the Subic Bay Naval Station, a casualty of the sense among some that the base was a painful reminder of decades of American rule.
The Associated Press reported that the Philippine government wants to fine the Navy for damages and for the entry into a marine sanctuary.
The recent grounding of the naval ship was preceded by other events that have led to renewed criticism of the United States military presence here. On Jan. 6, fishermen in the Philippines recovered an unmanned American drone that had been lost after it was used during American military exercises near the Pacific island of Guam.
Residents on the island of Masbate were initially alarmed by the discovery, fearing that it was an armed drone similar to those used in Afghanistan. But American and Philippine officials quickly clarified that it was an unarmed drone used as an aerial target.
The Philippine Senate is also investigating accusations that an American government contractor dumped about 50,000 gallons of untreated domestic waste from a Navy ship near Subic Bay after joint exercises in October. The former American naval facility, which is frequently visited by American ships, is also a popular Filipino tourist destination for beachgoers.
In the latest episode, the United States Navy minesweeper hit the Tubbataha Reef about 80 miles east of the Philippine island of Palawan, according to a Navy statement.
The full extent of the damage done to the reef by the 224-footship cannot be determined until the vessel is removed, but aerial photos taken by the Philippine military indicate that ship has put a gash in the reef measuring more than half the ship's length.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.