The Philippine Coast Guard is acquiring two new cutters to fight crimes.By Liz Lagniton, Philippine correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade
As part of its modernization program, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will soon get two new long-range cutters—the largest in its fleet—to boost law enforcement in the country’s maritime territory. Cutter refers to a vessel 65 feet in length or greater, with accommodations for a crew to live aboard, is fast enough to chase smugglers and has shallow draft so it can get into the smaller bays and inlets along the coast.
“We are reaching a milestone,” said PCG commandant Admiral George Ursabia to Maritime Fairtrade. “Acquiring the biggest ship for the Coast Guard is a big stride in the achievement of our country in the context of maritime security and maritime safety.”
“We have the usual present challenges and threats when it comes to patrolling and guarding the vast maritime areas of the country, particularly at the West Philippine Sea and the waters of southern Philippines.
“That is why these new vessels will significantly boost the PCG’s maritime law enforcement missions in those areas to prevent maritime incidents or can immediately respond, if necessary, to protect sea lanes and maritime trade, deter crimes at sea as well as uphold and protect the country’s maritime jurisdiction.”
Protecting maritime sovereignty
Designated “multi-role response vessels,” the 97-meter, 2,300-ton cutters are being built by Japan’s Mitsubishi Shipbuilding based on the Kunigami-class patrol vessels which have been, over the past 10 years, one of the workhorses of the Japan Coast Guard.
It took Mitsubishi Shipbuilding only seven months to build the first cutter and it was launched at the Shimonoseki Shipyard in July. The cutter is set to undergo sea trials later this year before delivery to Manila in March 2022, followed by the second one in May.
Upon delivery, the first one (with hull number 9701) will be the first of its class and will be christened BRP Teresa Magbanua, after a Filipino school teacher who uniquely had a role in the anti-colonial resistance against Spain, the United States, and, ironically, Japan.
Ursabia, who has served in various Philippine Navy and PCG positions over the past 37 years, was excited by the vessels’ features.
“The ships are capable of conducting sustained maritime patrols in the country’s maritime jurisdiction,” Ursabia said.
He said the cutters will have advanced augmented reality (AR) navigation systems through its bridge management system (BMS) that will provide substantial support to navigation and situational awareness.
The vessels can also support day or night operations because of their advanced cameras, long-range acoustic devices, underwater drones, solid-state radar, and secure radio communications systems, among others. In addition to their helidecks, they were also fitted with hangars—an improvement on the Japan Coast Guard’s Kunigami-class patrol vessels which did not have hangars.
Keeping Philippine waters safe
The new cutters are larger and almost as fast as the Singapore Navy’s Victory-class corvettes, but not as well-armed. In fact, the PCG has not even announced what weapon systems the new Teresa Magbanua-class will carry.
Like the Japan Coast Guard, the PCG is a civilian organization that is authorized to carry out police activities, rather than naval combat operations.
“So that means its focus will be law enforcement,” said PCG spokesperson Commodore Armando Balilo in a separate interview with Maritime Fairtrade.
But the vessels will definitely be a big boost to the PCG, Balilo said, “because an offshore operation is able to last for two weeks, with a long patrol, 25 knots, and equipped with modern technology. It will be a big deal for us.”
These ships’ design, equipment, fittings and accessories address the requirements of the PCG for multi-role missions, particularly humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
“They are capable of operating even in adverse sea conditions and able to sustain operations up to around 15 days at sea which is essentially needed for sustained maritime patrol and maritime security operations,” Ursabia said.
Ursabia hoped that the two new vessels will further the PCG capabilities to meet increasing challenges similar to the 10 Parola-class patrol boats that were also designed and constructed by Japanese shipbuilders.
Modernizing PCG with Japan’s help
The Parola patrol boats, named after lighthouses around the Philippines, were built by Japan Marine United for a price tag of almost US$12 million, funded by official development aid from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which also funded the two new cutters.
The Philippine Department of Transportation, the agency that supervises the PCG, stressed that the acquisition of the new vessels is a breakthrough towards the government’s thrust of modernizing and upgrading the country’s maritime safety and border protection.
“The modernization of PCG has been going fast and quick and very meaningful. In fact, in this effort to make it quick, fast, and very meaningful, the government of Japan has contributed very much,” said Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.
He said the two new cutters will be of great help in responding to maritime incidents in the country’s waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), such as in the conduct of search and rescue operations and maritime security patrols, as well as in the enforcement of marine environmental laws, among others.