PARIS, FRANCE - The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will be leading patrols in the disputed West Philippine Sea when it takes in the delivery of the 84-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel this coming December.
Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Elson Hermogino who was in Paris en route to the ship launching said, the ship’s intended mission was in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s orders to increase coast guard patrols in the West Philippine Sea as well as the Benham Rise.
In a speech after the controversial Reed Bank incident in which Chinese and Filipino vessels figured in a collision, President Duterte bewailed the fact that a Philippine Navy “gray” ship had been sent as the first responder.
The President has rejected joint military drills in the West Philippine Sea between the US and the Philippines, believing the presence of so many gray ships in the area will simply increase tensions with China.
Gray ships in maritime parlance refer to military warships or auxiliary manned by military personnel whereas white ships refer to vessels run by civilian authorities like the Coast Guard.
“Malaking tulong na 'yan sa ating responsibilidad sa West Philippine Sea at Benham Rise kaya nga ang utos ng ating ng Pangulo ang coast guard ang magpatrolya sa lugar na ito kaya nga hiling natin sa Pangulo na dagdagan ang ating mga malalaking barko,” Hermogino said in an interview after meeting with the Philippine Ambassador in Paris.
Made by the French shipbuilder OCEA, the aluminum-hulled boat will be christened the BRP Gabriela Silang, the first of the Coast Guard's frigate-size modern patrol ships.
The BRP Gabriela Silang will be the first ship in either the PCG or Philippine Navy’s fleet that will be using a hybrid engine.
Ships with hybrid engines alternate between diesel and electric power, depending on the speed and specific mission requirements.
OCEA representatives claim that the new Offshore Patrol Vessel or OPV vessel will have a maximum range of 8,000 nautical miles before needing to refuel.
In comparison, the new South Korean, Rizal-class frigates purchased by the Philippine Navy have a maximum range of 4,000 nautical miles.
The OPV will have a helicopter landing pad and two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats or RHIBS to be used for shallow water maneuvers and boarding operations.
However, the original contract to purchase the OPV in 2014 signed did not include the purchase of the ship’s weapons.
The PCG's law enforcement operations and patrols require even coast guard vessels to have weapons to carry out anti-piracy, anti-terrorism and anti-poaching operations.
Hermogino says the PCG was in the process of looking for a weapon systems that will be installed in the ship.
“We are looking for the possible installation of 20 millimeter to 30 millimeter weapons to equip properly our vessel,” he said.
The French are among several countries vying to win purchase contracts for patrol vessels both for the PCG and the Philippine Navy.
Last year, OCEA delivered four 24 meter Fast Patrol Boats to the PCG. The delivery is part of the 97 million Euro Philippine Ports and Coast Guard Development Project signed by the then-Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) of the Aquino administration in 2014.
The rest of the contract include the purchase of the BRP Gabriela Silang and a 5-year integrated logistics support contract to provide maintenance and spare parts.
Philippine Ambassador to France Teresa Lazaro says the completion of the contract to purchase the patrol boats and the OPV reflects the good relationship between France and the Philippines.
“Our law enforcement particularly the Coast Guard saw it fit that this is the best for the country so it's not only based on friendship but it is also what is best for our national interest," Lazaro said.
The Philippines is currently on a buying spree for patrol ships as tensions remain high in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.
The Coast Guard alone is eyeing an additional 12 OPV sized vessels to strengthen its patrol operations throughout the country.
But the French are also setting their sights beyond the Coast Guard contracts and have submitted proposals for the acquisition and financing of modern ships to the National Economic Development Authority or NEDA.
“We are still looking for other future projects with the French government especially on military and law enforcement equipment that can be provided by France,” Hermogino said.
OCEA has also submitted a yet undisclosed proposal to the Department of Transportation involving the upgrade of current roll-on, roll-off ferry ships in the country through private partnerships secured by French financing. — BAP, GMA News