28 Juli 2011

Philippine Warship to Stop in Hawaii Before Patrolling Spratly Islands

28 Juli 2011

PF-15 BRP Gregorio del Pilar (photo : PMCMSSR)

The Philippine navy's newest and biggest ship, a former U.S. Coast Guard cutter re-flagged as the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, will pull into Pearl Harbor this morning for a brief port visit before heading on to Guam and the Philippines.

ABS-CBN News out of the Philippines said the warship will patrol the South China Sea close to the disputed Spratly Islands, where China has had run-ins with the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Spratlys, with oil and natural gas deposits, are claimed in whole or in part by the three countries and others in the region.

The Gregorio del Pilar is the 378-foot former U.S. Coast Guard cutter Hamilton, which was commissioned in 1967 and decommissioned on March 28 of this year.

According to Internet reports, the Gregorio del Pilar has a 76 mm cannon, two 25 mm Bushmaster guns and a Close-In Weapons System.

The warship is scheduled to arrive at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam at 7:30 a.m. Deputy Consul General Paul Cortes of the Philippine Consulate in Honolulu; Capt. Jeffrey James, commander of Joint Base-Pearl Harbor-Hickam; and Capt. William Johnson, commanding officer of the cruiser USS Lake Erie, will greet the ship, U.S. Navy officials said.

Members of the Filipino community who have base access are welcome to attend the arrival, officials said.

During the port visit, Gregorio del Pilar will take on supplies and fuel, and hold a reception hosted by the Philippine Consulate in Honolulu and the Philippine Celebrations Coordinating Committee of Hawaii. Crew members also will visit the USS Arizona Memorial.

The ship was turned over to the Philippine government on May 13. ABS-CBN News said the cutter was acquired from the U.S. for more than $10 million.

Commanded by Capt. Alberto A. Cruz, Gregorio Del Pilar left Alameda, Calif., on July 18. Gregorio del Pilar is the first gas-turbine jet engine-powered vessel in the Philippine navy fleet, U.S. officials said. It has a crew capacity of 180 and a range of 14,000 nautical miles.

The U.S. Navy said prior to taking command of the ship, 74 Gregorio del Pilar members underwent two months of training on board the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Boutwell, the sister ship of the Hamilton.

The Boutwell traveled to Colombia, Ecuador and El Salvador, where the ship's mission included the interdiction of drug smugglers.

"The success of the training and transition is an indication of the robust Philippine-U.S. partnership and serves as an expression of U.S. commitment to help the Philippines protect its maritime domain," the Navy said.

The Philippine navy has acquired other U.S. Coast Guard vessels in the past, including two 82-foot patrol boats in 1999 and 2001.

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