05 August 2013

Alcaraz now in Subic

The second Hamilton class frigate of the Philippine Navy, BRP Ramon Alcaraz, has safely anchored here yesterday morning, following a two-month voyage from the United States.

Before sunrise yesterday, BRP Alcaraz, with her sister ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar, sailed slowly towards its designated anchorage area in the sprawling bay for a two-day customs and immigration procedure.

“We have to undergo quarantine proceedings,” a Filipino sailor aboard BRP Alcaraz was heard telling his colleagues over BRP Del Pilar’s communication system.

President Aquino, along with top military officials, will lead the welcome ceremony for the country’s new warship on Tuesday at Alava port here.

A number of Philippine Navy warships, including the Peacock Class BRP Emilio Jacinto and the presidential yacht Ang Pangulo, are also set to welcome BRP Alcaraz.

“They (crew) will be very busy in the preparation of the ship for the arrival ceremony on Tuesday,” Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Gregory Fabic said in a text message.

He also said the Philippine Navy would organize tours to enable the public to see the ship.

Alcaraz meets Del Pilar, dolphins

Before dropping anchor in the bay, BRP Alcaraz was welcomed by BRP Del Pilar off the coast of Bolinao, Pangasinan where the two former US Coast Guard high-endurance cutters performed the time-honored Navy tradition dubbed as “meeting engagement” at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Fishermen aboard 22 small fishing boats and 11 big fishing vessels also held a regatta for BRP Alcaraz before the warship rejoined BRP Del Pilar for a 14-hour voyage to home port.

“Fishermen are the first ones to benefit from the arrival of the ship because aside from the job of PF16 (bow number of BRP Alcaraz) to guard Philippine waters, the vessel will also serve as the salvation ship of fishermen in times of calamity,” Commander Levi Carane of the civil military operations of the Philippine Navy’s Naval Forces Northern Luzon said in Filipino.

The warship was also “welcomed” by a group of dolphins which swam towards the vessel after the meeting in Bolinao, according to Ltjg. Errol de la Cruz.

“The ‘sail past’ (ceremony) was almost completed when a huge amazement surprised us all! A group of dolphins suddenly emerged from the surface and swam towards our ship,” De la Cruz wrote in the ship’s online journal.

Ship’s trained crew, weapons system

Under the command of Navy Capt. Ernesto Baldovino, BRP Alcaraz’s 14 officers and 74 crewmembers have been away from their families for more than a year. While in the US, they trained in handling the vessel including its electronics weapons systems.

During the voyage home from South Carolina, Alcaraz’s first stop was San Diego, California, then Hawaii and Guam before finally embarking on the final leg through rough waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike BRP Del Pilar which was escorted by a US Navy warship when it sailed to the Philippines in 2011, BRP Alcaraz was on its own as the vessel has been classified as highly capable of “taking care” of itself.

“Both her engines are in top shape and she had her own monitoring and weapons systems which are highly functioning. She doesn’t need any escort,” said George Malabrigo, a Filipino engineer working for the International Fleet Support (IFS), a Washington-based naval contractor that provides complete life-cycle support for non-nuclear surface ships operated by allied navies.

“One of her engines is brand-new and the other underwent complete overhaul. Alcaraz is in top shape. After undergoing repainting from white to grey, she can immediately join the Philippine fleet,” Malabrigo added.

Aboard BRP Del Pilar, Malabrigo is here as head of IFS programs for the Philippine Navy. He supervised the refurbishment of BRP Alcaraz at North Charleston, South Carolina right after the vessel was turned over to the Philippine government last year.

“It’s good to see that the Philippines has already two frigates. More so if these two warships are finally fitted with missile systems,” Malabrigo said.

But while many observers hail the acquisition of BRP Alcaraz, others are not impressed, saying it is no match for the capabilities of China with whom the Philippines has a territorial dispute. (Jaime Laude , with Alexis Romero, Cesar Ramirez, Philippine Star)