Monday, January 24, 2011

Navy eyes purchase of coast guard cutter from US (Philippines)

By Alexis Romero
The Philippine Star, Monday, January 24, 2011

MANILA, Philippines - The Navy plans to acquire a Hamilton-class cutter from the United States to boost its capability to conduct patrols and rescue missions.

Navy chief Rear Adm. Alexander Pama said officials are now negotiating with their US counterparts for the acquisition of the ship.

“There are negotiations for the possible acquisition of a US Coast Guard cutter. It will definitely boost (our capability) a lot given this is a weather heavy endurance cutter,” Pama told reporters over the weekend.

He said they are still threshing out details of the acquisition of the vessel, which is used to conduct patrols in the high seas.

“We are still discussing this. Nothing is final. We are in the stage where there is understanding already. We will formally send a letter request,” the Navy chief said.

A cutter is a high-speed vessel that can cut through waves. If the acquisition pushes through, the ship would be the first Hamilton-class cutter in the Navy’s inventory.

Navy spokesman Capt. Giovanni Bacordo said the ship might arrive in the country within the first semester of this year.

He said the US Coast Guard cutter would become their largest ship once it becomes part of their assets.

“It (cutter) would be our largest ship at 380 ft. long. At present, our largest surface combatant, BRP Rajah Humabon, is only 308 feet long,” Bacordo said.

Navy officials declined to say whether the US would donate the cutter and how much the ship costs. Pama, however, said the Philippines might shoulder the needed repairs and training of personnel who will use the ship.

“I cannot tell the exact figure. It depends on the components to be placed in the ship. That would determine the pricing,” he said.

When asked if the cutter would be designated as the Navy’s flagship, Bacordo said: “It depends on the Navy leadership.”

Navy records showed that out of the 53 patrol ships in the inventory, only 25 are operational.

These patrol ships are of the average age of 36.4 years old. The biggest of these vessels like the Mine Sweeper Frigates and patrol craft escorts are 66 and 67 years old, respectively.

Only two of the seven Navy transport vessels are operational and are already 15 years old.

The non-operational vessels are 64 years old. On the other hand, only four of the 10 Navy auxiliary ships are operational. From among the 32 small crafts, 23 are operational with an average age of 21.3 years old.

The Navy is searching for ways to upgrade its capabilities without using the yearly budget, which is usually allotted for salaries and operational expenses. It has bared plans to set up a foundation that will gather assistance from private firms and individuals who want to help in improving its capabilities.

“We are planning to have this navy foundation where well-meaning individuals, groups, or firms can donate property, educational grant or anything that can be of help to us,” Bacordo said in an earlier interview.

The foundation may be formed within the first half of the year.

The Navy has also formed a new office that will look into proposals designed to tap public-private partnerships (PPP) to fund its modernization program.

The Capacity Resource Development and Special Projects Branch, which is under the Navy’s Resource Management Office, was tasked to find possible sources of income and to study proposals related to PPP.

Navy officials have cited the need to modernize the military’s rescue teams since the country is vulnerable to typhoons and other disasters.

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