Tuesday, April 12, 2011
21 PH NAVY MEN TRAINING FOR SHIP TURN-OVER
Twenty-one officers and men of the Philippine Navy are now training with the US Coast Guard in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean as part of the turn-over of a Hamilton-class cutter next month.
The Hamilton-class Weather High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) will be the biggest vessel acquired by the Philippine Navy since the 1980s. Philippine Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama said the ship will be deployed near the disputed Spratley Islands.
Philippine Embassy officials say the Filipino sailors have already sailed in three countries aboard the USCGC Boutwell, one of the US Coast Guard’s Hamilton-class ships.
“They are getting very good hands-on training and experience aboard a ship that is identical to what they’ll be manning,” the official disclosed to the Manila Mail.
Hamilton-class ships are 378 feet long, displace 3,250 tons, have dual diesel and gas turbine engines that give them a top speed of 29 knots and can remain at sea without refueling for 45 days. They have a crew of 167 officers and men.
They are armed with a rapid-firing 3-inch/76mm gun, a 20mm Phalanx and two 25mm Mk38 “Bushmaster” auto-cannons. But officials say some of those weapons might be removed before the turnover to the Philippine Navy.
The Hamilton-class cutters – that are on average about 40 years old – are being replaced by the sleeker, more sophisticated National Security Cutter. When the Philippine Navy finally gets the ship, she will still be one of the newest in the Philippine Fleet.
The ship has a retractable hangar and helicopter deck that will multiply its patrolling capabilities in the South China Sea.
The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest with China last month after two of its patrol boats harassed a Philippine oceanographic ship at Reed Bank near the Spratley Islands which is being claimed by China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei.
Reed Island is just 200 miles from Palawan.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Oban said they have earmarked P8 billion (about $107 million) to beef up their presence in Palawan. The Philippines has the only runway in the disputed isles, at Kalayaan Island that is part of Palawan province that could be a prime target if shooting breaks out.
The US will turn over the Hamilton-class cutter on May 13.