(CNN) -- Work to cut up the hull of a U.S. Navy warship grounded on a Philippine reef is expected to begin shortly, reports from the Philippines said Monday.
Weather will be the determining factor as to when crews will begin cutting up the wood-and-fiberglass hull of the USS Guardian, which has been stranded on Tubbahata Reef in the Sulu Sea since January 17, a Philippine Coast Guard official said. The 224-foot-long hull is expected to be cut into three parts.
"We need six days of very good weather in order to begin cutting and lifting of the hull," Coast Guard Palawan District Commodore Enrico Efren Evanglista told the official Philippine News Agency.
Salvage crews have identified strong points in the hull of the 1,312-ton minesweeper that can be used to lift chunks of the hull off the reef.
"Most of the work is done below deck. The focus of the salvage team is the preparation of the hull for cutting and lifting," the Coast Guard official said.
The superstructure of the vessel has been removed and taken away from the grounding site on Tubbahata Reef, an environmentally sensitive UNESCO World Heritage Site. About 500 species of fish and 350 species of coral can be found there, as can whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and breeding seabirds, according to UNESCO.
That means crews are taking extra care in removing parts of the ship that could contain residue from oil and fuel, such as pipe fittings, Efren Evanglista said.
The Guardian is estimated to have damaged about 4,000 square meters (about 43,000 square feet) of the reef. The Navy has pledged to clean up the debris created when waves stripped off pieces of fiberglass covering the wooden hull of the ship and to try to restore the reef as much as possible.
An investigation of the grounding is ongoing. Navy officials said in January that the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which prepares the digital navigation charts used by the Navy, has reported the location of the reef was misplaced on a chart by nine miles.