Earlier this week, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commissioned a French-built vessel, the largest in its fleet thus far. The development highlighted the country’s ongoing efforts to enhance the service’s capabilities in order to manage a series of internal and external developments.
As I have observed before in these pages, along with some of its other Southeast Asian neighbors, the Philippines has been placing an increasing emphasis on the development of its coast guard as it seeks to boost its overall capabilities, which still remain quite limited to cover over 7,000 islands and to manage a series of internal and external challenges with a tenth of the world’s coastline.
One of the contracts signed by the Philippine government to boost its coast guard capabilities was with the French shipbuilder OCEA for the delivery of offshore patrol vessels. That contract called for the delivery of five vessels for $99 million, with the delivery of the four other vessels completed back in 2018.
Earlier this week, this aspect of the PCG’s capabilities was in the headlines again with the commissioning of the final of the five vessels in that contract. That vessel had been launched by OCEA in France in July 2019, and it was originally set to arrive in the Philippines late last year. However, the vessel was diverted to provide assistance to Filipinos in the Middle East amid rising confrontation between the United States and Iran earlier this year.
According to local media outlets, the French-built 84m OPV, named BRP Gabriela Silang (8301), arrived in Manila Bay on April 7 and was finally commissioned on April 13. The commissioning, held in a private, low-key manner amid the global coronavirus pandemic, was attended by Philippine officials including the PCG commandant Joel Garcia and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.
While the commissioning was in line with the contract signed by both sides, it is not without significance. The BRP Gabriela Silang is now the largest vessel within the PCG, and it represents a notable addition to Manila’s limited but growing capabilities. More generally, the new vessel, which can house a crew of 40 with a maximum speed of 22 knots and a range of 8000 nautical miles, will further enable the PCG to undertake missions including safeguarding the country’s waters amid a series of internal and external challenges, including piracy, terrorism, and challenges to its South China Sea claims.