2 Navy ships back from Middle East mission

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    BRP Ramon Alcaraz (Photo from Philippine Navy)

    TWO Philippine Navy ships arrived in Manila on Tuesday, five months after they were sent to Oman to help in the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were displaced by the US-Iraq tension.

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP chief Gen. Felimon Santos, AFP vice chief Vice Adm. Gaudencio Collado and Navy chief Vice Adm. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo welcomed the ships and their crew members during rites held at the South Harbor.

    BRP Davao del Sur and BRP Ramon Alcaraz carried with them a number of repatriates from India and Sri Lanka and brought in personal protective equipment (PPE) donated by a Filipino doctor in India.

    The two ships left the country for Oman in January “to bring the OFWs from (the) conflict area to a safer place so that they can be transported here by plane,” said Lorenzana. They arrived in Oman in February.

    In May, authorities decided to pull back the two ships, without transporting any repatriates from the Middle East, as the tension between the US and Iraq eased.

    “But I think you have accomplished a lot there. The idea is show to the people, as the President said, that we care about them… The act of doing that means a lot to the people,” said Lorenzana.

    From Oman, the ships made a stop in Cochin, India to pick up 15 stranded Filipino tourists and workers and haul hundreds of thousands of face masks donated by Paul Dantes of the LegalZoc Co.

    While leaving Cochin for Manila on May 7, a fire broke out at the engine room of BRP Ramon Alcaraz, forcing the ship to return to Cochin for repair. BRP Davao del Sur proceeded on its voyage only to return to Cochin due to inclement weather.

    The two ships finally left Cochin on May 27 after the repair of BRP Ramon Alcaraz. En route to Manila, they made a brief stop in Sri Lanka on May 29 to pick up 12 more Filipino workers and tourists stranded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Lorenzana said the deployment of the two ships to Middle East was “very invaluable in our naval culture, naval experience,” noting that “this is the first time our naval ships went to Middle East, the longest mission, more than four months.”

    “I know what you have been through. Congratulations for a job well done. Welcome home and thank you for your service,” said Lorenzana to the crew members of the ships, led by Col. Noel Beleran.