Sunday, July 31, 2011

Navy Seabees constructing 'starshell' on Patag Island

By Jaime Laude
Philippine Star,Sunday, July 31, 2011

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Navy (PN) is about to finish construction of a second star shell-like structure on Patag Island in the Spratlys, which is intended to shelter and protect troops guarding and securing the country’s maritime domain in the hotly-contested West Philippine Sea from inclement weather.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in the meantime, is eagerly awaiting the US Hamilton-class ship acquired by the PN, which stopped in Hawaii yesterday for refueling before continuing its voyage to Manila.

The Navy’s 3rd Naval Mobile Construction Battalion is now nearing completion of the “Star Shell,” construction of which was started in late May, according to the the PN’s Naval Construction Brigade.

Once completed, Patag Island, the sixth largest among the nine islands being occupied by Filipino troops in the West Philippine Sea, will complement another star shell facility constructed by the Navy for the troops deployed in the area.

The islet has a land area of 5,700 square meters and is also being claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The construction is aimed at improving the living conditions of the troops and was done way ahead of the brewing tensions among Spratlys claimant-countries.

The island is considered highly strategic, as it is located within the vicinity of Recto Bank where local and foreign partners have been conducting oil drilling exploration operations.

Recto Bank, which is within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEC), is believed to be sitting on huge natural gas and oil deposits.

At present, a 25-man strong Seabees groups headed by Lt. Armelito Alcazar are still in Patag Island building the structure, using pre-fabricated materials brought in by the Navy’s BRP Laguna (LT 501) from Cavite.

The AFP has also programmed the repair and rehabilitation of the Rancudo Airfield in the Pag-Asa Island, the biggest island in the Kalaayan Island Group (KIG), to be able to accommodate C-130 military planes and other civilian aircraft.

AFP spokesman Commodore Miguel Rodriguez said the US Hamilton-class ship will proceed to another port in Guam before proceeding to the Philippines.

“According to the Filipino community in the area, they are giving BRP Gregorio del Pilar a warm reception. We are excited about this,” Rodriguez said in a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

“It is not a voyage per se so there are a lot of trainings. Even the crew members want to familiarize themselves with the ship,” he added.

Rodriguez said the ship would complement the skills of Navy personnel, whom he described as “among the best in the world.”

A total of 95 Navy personnel are manning the US Hamilton-class cutter that will arrive in Manila in three weeks.

The ship would be used to secure the natural resources and the Malampaya energy projects in the West Philippine Sea. The transfer cost has been pegged at P450 million while the operational cost for two years is estimated at P120 million. A cutter is a high-speed vessel that can cut through waves.

The newly acquired ship is the Navy’s first Hamilton-class cutter and would become its largest vessel.

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