By Priam Nepomuceno
MANILA: The Naval Task Force (NTF) 82, which consists of the landing dock, BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602), and the newly-repaired offshore patrol vessel, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16), have finally resumed their voyage home from the Port of Cochin, India on Wednesday.
Philippine Navy (PN) public affairs office chief Lt. Commander Maria Christina Roxas, in a statement, said the two ships will make a brief stop at the Port of Colombo, Sri Lanka on Friday to repatriate 12 more Filipino tourists and overseas workers stranded due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
The two ships originally sailed from the Port of Cochin on May 7 for their voyage home but a fire on the engine room of BRP Ramon Alcaraz a few hours after departing forced the offshore patrol vessel back into the Indian port for repairs.
Meanwhile, the BRP Davao Del Sur which proceeded alone on May 9 and has already reached Sri Lanka on May 11, opted to return to India port due to rough weather caused by Cyclone “Amphan” that battered eastern India and Bangladesh.
Roxas said the 12 other repatriates will join the 18 Filipino tourists earlier picked up in India aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur in separate rooms.
“(These repatriates) in separate rooms inside LD-602 (will be monitored 24-hours) by an onboard medical team. LD602 originally left for Manila by itself on May 9 and already reached Sri Lanka when it was compelled to return to India to take shelter from the brewing storm in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea,” she added.
Roxas said the delay gave ample time for BRP Ramon Alcaraz, the other component of NTF 82, to complete repairs to its damaged engine room with help from the Indian government.
“The Philippines’ existing defense cooperation with India paved the way for the latter’s Navy to provide expertise and assistance to our PN personnel, leading up to the restoration of the ship’s main propulsion, generators, auxiliary systems and other essential equipment. PS-16 has been restored to being seaworthy and is now sailing in convoy with LD-602,” she added.
However, transport of materiel and other support from US Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) was delayed due to the unavailability of flights amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said NAVSEA will assist the Philippines in repairing the BRP Ramon Alcaraz which was acquired in the US in 2013.
However, Roxas said NAVSEA subject matter experts and needed logistics will be available once BRP Ramon Alcaraz reaches Subic Bay, Zambales.
“This journey has truly magnified the resiliency and determination of our personnel amid these turbulent times, that no matter what obstacles are faced along the way, they will carry on with the mission, which becomes even more worthy as NTF 82 aims to bring home safely displaced Filipinos and face masks essential to our efforts against the coronavirus disease,” she added.
The two ships were deployed to Oman last February as a contingency measure should a large evacuation of overseas Filipino workers be needed following tensions between the United States and Iran.
They sailed from Sultan Qaboos, Oman last April 21 and arrived in India on April 29 to fetch a donation of 200,000 pieces of face mask from a Filipino businessman based in that country, as well as Filipino tourists who were stranded due to the Covid-19 outbreak.