USA formally offers 2nd warship to AFP of the Philippines

Philippines top military official exposed Saturday (18th February 2012) that the United States has formally offered to the Philippines a second warship that is expected to boost the country's territorial defense capability.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said the US sent last week a letter notifying them about the availability of another US Coast Guard cutter, Dallas.

"They (US) sent a letter offering us formally (the ship). They are telling us this is available and their government has approved (the giving of the ship to the Philippines). They are asking us if we are interested," Pama said.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is expected to reply to the letter next week.

"We will respond to the letter and tell them that we are interested. Once they receive that, the formal, detailed discussion would start," Pama said.

The Navy chief said the transfer of the warship might be held in May if discussions run smoothly.

"If the talks are continuous and smooth flowing, we are looking at a formal transfer to be held in May," Pama said.

The transfer cost would be funded by proceeds from the Malampaya natural gas project off Palawan that the Department of Energy will provide.

Officials have said the transfer cost for the cutter Dallas would be close to the P450 million spent for the first Coast Guard cutter that the Philippine Navy acquired last year.

The first Coast Guard cutter that was converted into the BRP Gregorio del Pilar was acquired from the US Coast Guard last year to improve the Philippines' territorial defense capability.

The Gregorio del Pilar is the Navy's first Hamilton-class vessel and was acquired under the US Foreign Military Sales program.

The ship is 380 feet long and is now the Navy's largest ship. The ship is currently deployed in Palawan since Dec. 23 to secure the country's natural resources.

The Philippines deployed the ship amid a territorial row over the Spratly Islands, an area in the West Philippine Sea that is rich in mineral and marine resources.

The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan claim either part or the entire Spratly Islands, which has been the subject of a territorial dispute in the region.

Last November, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her government is ready to provide a second war ship to the Philippines.

Clinton, who visited Manila to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty, said the US would remain "in the corner" of the Philippines, its "trusted ally."

Early this month, US Rep. Ed Royce said the ship "should soon be on its way to Manila" and that the review process for its transfer would be completed soon.

Dallas is a weather high-endurance cutter and has features similar to that of Gregorio del Pilar.

The US Coast Guard had used the ship for drug and migrant interdiction, law enforcement, search and rescue, living marine resources protection, and defense readiness.

The ship can accommodate up to 180 officers and sailors.

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