• BRP Batangas, one of four San Juan class vessels in service with the Philippine Coast Guard.

Credit: Philippine Coast Guard
    BRP Batangas, one of four San Juan class vessels in service with the Philippine Coast Guard. Credit: Philippine Coast Guard

Under a $508,000 contract from the Department of Home Affairs BMT Defence and Security Australia is examining the feasibility of restoring several of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels to operational service.

The vessels being examined – four 56-metre San Juan class and four 36-metre Ilocos Norte class search and rescue vessels – were originally constructed by Tenix Defence which is now BAE Systems Australia, in the early 2000s, financed by concessional loans from the Australian government.

While all eight vessels saw heavy use by the PCG during the 2000s and early 2010s, they appear to have fallen into disrepair during the COVID19 pandemic. Publicly available Automated Identification System (AIS) tracking data shows that only one of the vessels, BRP Romblon, has left its home port in the last year.

BMT Defence and Security Australia are scheduled to conclude their assessment work in September this year, which will inform how the Department of Home Affairs proceeds with assisting the PCG to manage their fleet.

“Results of the assessment will provide a base for future fleet management,” a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson told ADM.

“As part of the Philippines-Australia Strategic Partnership, Australia has committed to enhance maritime cooperation with the Philippines, one of these activities is a collaboration with the PCG on vessel sustainment,” the spokesperson said.

“This partnership will support [the PCG to] manage and maintain their civil maritime security vessel fleets effectively with the goal to ensure a robust and capable maritime enforcement capability.”

The prospect of bringing some, or all, of the Tenix-built PCG vessels back into service comes as the PCG continues to take on a leading role in responding to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

This has placed pressure on the service's relatively small fleet of ten Japanese-built ocean-going patrol boats and three offshore patrol vessels, not least due to the need to repair damage caused by the Chinese Coast Guard during encounters at sea.

On 30 April 2024, a Japanese built Parola-class PCG vessel, BRP Bagacay (MRRV-4410), was damaged by a water cannon fired from a Chinese Coast Guard vessel, while other vessels of the class have been rammed while undertaking their missions.

The PCG is separately examining the prospect of acquiring two armed Guardian-class patrol boats from Austal, though it isn’t clear if these would be donated by the Australian government or bought outright by the PCG. The PCG is also examining the possibility of building the vessels locally at Austal Philippines’ Cebu shipyard.

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