The biggest ship ever to be acquired by the Philippine Navy, the renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar, will begin its three-week journey to the Philippines from California on Monday.
The 378-foot Hamilton-class cutter is a decommissioned United States Coast Guard patrol vessel that the Philippines was able to acquire under the United States Excess Defense Act.
(The cutters are called “Hamilton class” after their lead ship, the Hamilton, named after Alexander Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury.)
Armed Forces Chief Eduardo Oban Jr. earlier said the transfer cost to the government was around P450 million.
The money used for its acquisition came from the Department of Energy’s Malampaya project funds, according to Lieutenant Colonel Omar Tonsay, chief of the Navy’s public affairs office.
While the ship—until recently the largest class of vessel in the US Coast Guard—was designated as a “weather high-endurance cutter” in the USCG, in the Philippine Navy it is classified as a “surface combatant ship” or a warship, said Tonsay.
It will be used for, among other purposes, defending the country’s interests in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), particularly in waters near the disputed Spratly Islands, according to the Navy.
The send-off in San Francisco will be attended by Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Alexander Pama and Philippine Deputy General Consul to San Francisco Wilfredo Santos.
“The send-off will signal the last leg of activities for BRP Gregorio del Pilar in the US and will start the first leg of its journey to the Philippines,” said Pama.
Long trip home
“All preparations have been made for this long trip home as the actual send-off takes place on July 18 at 4 p.m.,” he said in a statement.
The journey will include stopovers in Hawaii and Guam for replenishment.
The Del Pilar, or PF-15, was turned over to the Philippine government on May 13 during turnover rites led by Jose L. Cuisia Jr., the Philippine ambassador to the United States, and Vice Admiral Manson K. Brown, the US Coast Guard Pacific Area and Defense Force West Commander.
The vessel, whose two 1,800 horsepower gas turbines can propel it to speeds of up to 28 knots, was renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, or PF-15 (the type code designating it as a patrol frigate).
It is the biggest ship ever to be acquired by the Philippine Navy at 378 feet long, with displacement weight of 3,390 long tons. It can stay at sea for 30 days without refueling, and has a crew capacity of 180.
It is powered by combined diesel engines and gas turbines and equipped with a helicopter flight deck, a retractable hangar, and other facilities to support helicopter operations.
The Del Pilar will replace the 306-ft BRP Rajah Humabon, a Cannon-class destroyer-escort built during World War II, as the country’s biggest warship, said Tonsay.
The Hamilton-class cutter was largely used by the US Coast Guard for “drug and migrant interdiction, law enforcement, search and rescue, living marine resources protection, and defense readiness,” Tonsay said.
“The Philippine Navy, on the other hand, intends to use this multimission vessel for operations such as maritime security patrols and search and rescue,” he said.
“But more specifically, it will be deployed to aid in the maritime security of the Malampaya Project west of Palawan,” Tonsay said.
In a forum in May, Oban said the Del Pilar would be deployed to the Palawan area, “purposely to patrol our maritime area there and protect our territorial waters as well.”
The Philippines has sought to modernize its military following a series of incidents with China, particularly in the Spratlys, a reputedly oil- and gas-rice chain of islets claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Philippines has accused China of repeated intrusions into Philippine-claimed territories in the West Philippine Sea that lie well within its exclusive economic zone.
On Friday, Oban said the AFP had recorded no new foreign intrusions in the area since June.
“That means we’re doing good in terms of our presence,” he said.
“What I’m saying is there are fewer incidences of intrusion unlike the first four to five months of the year when we have seen increased level of intrusion,” he said.
He said the AFP would maintain “vigilance on all fronts” in protecting Philippine waters.
“Our mandate is to patrol our exclusive economic zone. Whether there is threat or not we have to enforce maritime and environmental laws,” Oban said.