Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New naval warship completes first patrol mission off Spratlys islands

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—The country’s newest naval warship, which made a port of call here at the Palawan capital on Monday following its first patrol mission around the areas being claimed by the Philippines in the disputed Spratly islands, in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), held a one-day “open house” on Tuesday.
Local residents were encouraged to have a closer view of the Hamilton-class cutter docked at the Naval facility beside the commercial port area during the open house.
Commissioned into the Philippine naval service in December following its acquisition from the United States, the naval war ship boasted of long range patrolling capability and surveillance facilities otherwise unavailable to other Philippine naval vessels and is regarded by defense authorities as a milestone in upgrading the country’s military capability in the tension-filled Spratlys region.
Naval Forces West commanding officer Joseph Rostum Peña announced in a press conference Monday at the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF 15) the war ship’s completion of “a successful 12-day sovereignty patrol” of what Manila had called the West Philippine Sea.
The patrol also included the Camago-Malampaya gas field, which hosted the country’s lone natural gas extraction facility, and the Balabac Strait adjacent to the Malaysian maritime border, said Peña.
“This ship was more capable and had more endurance than any of our other naval ships,” he said.
Peña added that the Navy has been working to further upgrade the ship’s defensive capabilities with the installation, “hopefully soon,” of its own missile system.
He added, however, that the country’s naval capability in the Spratlys still paled in comparison with China and some of the other claimant countries in the region.
“Compared to other navies, our weapons system is not yet at par. In the next acquisition, we expected sister ships for PF 15 that would have some of the more advanced weapons and missile systems,” he said.
The naval officers described the ship’s main capability in monitoring all naval activities around the area, where it operated, mainly through the use of a computer-based identification system.
Capt. Alberto Cruz, the vessel’s commanding officer, said they did not encounter any incident of unauthorized foreign intrusion in the Philippine-claimed areas during their patrol mission.
“So far, we did not monitor any intrusion, except for the usual merchant ships that plied the area,” said Cruz.
Peña admitted, however, that they were careful to keep a distance from other islets being claimed by China and other nations in the disputed area.
“We distanced ourselves from the other occupied islands. The other countries did the same. The South China Sea was a vital sea lane where you could find so many commercial ships, including our Filipino fishermen,” he said.
“We didn’t go very near (the other islands not claimed by the Philippines) so as not to provoke other countries,” he added.

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