New Coast Guard vessel to patrol West PH Sea this year

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 17) — The Philippine Coast Guard's first-ever offshore patrol vessel (OPV) will start guarding the country's waters, including the West Philippine Sea, this December.

The Coast Guard in a statement on Wednesday announced the launching in France of its "newest, biggest, and most modern" ship – the BRP Gabriela Silang. French shipbuilder OCEA on its website said it was the "largest aluminium OPV built in the world."

"Ang barko ay aasahang darating sa Maynila sa unang linggo ng Disyembre ngayong taon upang tapusin ang mga kailangang kumpunuhin at ang training para sa 18 PCG personnel na magiging sailing crew nito na magsisimula sa ika-1 ng Setyembre hanggang sa huling linggo ng Oktubre," the Coast Guard said in its statement.

Translation: "The ship is expected to arrive in Manila on the first week of December this year to finish repairs and training for the 18 PCG personnel who will serve as sailing crew starting September 1 to the last week of October."

It said the ship will be used to patrol the West Philippine Sea and Philippine Rise.

The West Philippine Sea refers to areas in the South China Sea which the Philippines either claims or occupies, mostly as part of its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. China claims almost the entire South China Sea. Malacañang has pushed for increased Coast Guard presence in the area following the controversial incident near Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank, an underwater feature where a Filipino fishing boat was hit and sunk by a Chinese vessel on June 9.

Meanwhile, China does not claim Philippine Rise but its survey ships were spotted in the resource-rich area in May 2017, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to change its name from Benham Rise to Philippine Rise to assert sovreignty.

The Coast Guard said the 84-meter BRP Gabriela Silang, which has a helideck and hangar, will also be used for counter-terrorism efforts south of the country.

It said it can patrol the waters even during bad weather, and can be used for search and rescue operations, maritime law enforcement, and maritime surveillance. It boasts of a Mission Management System that integrates surveillance, detection and communication capabilities.

The ship can sail for up to 22 days without refueling and carries up to 40 crew members, 26 other passengers, and 35 survivors.

"Samantala, mayroon din itong Hyperbaric Chamber para sa paggamot ng diving sickness at survivor room na may kapasidad na mag-accommodate ng mga na-rescue," the Coast Guard said, noting that it can also be used to respond to pollution incidents such as oil spills.

Translation: "Meanwhile, it also has a Hyperbaric Chamber to cure diving sickness and a survivor room to accommodate the rescued."

It is also the first Coast Guard ship with a diesel-electric engine.

The contract for BRP Gabriela Silang was signed on September 9, 2014 amounting to P5.59 billion. The Coast Guard said Duterte in January 2017 allowed the Finance Department to enter into an agreement with French international banking group BNP Paribas for funding. The contract also includes the four 24-meter fast patrol boats which have been delivered to the country.