Coast Guard cutter makes historic visit to Philippines as tensions flare in South China Sea
Stars and Stripes October 24, 2023
The Coast Guard has sent a fast-response cutter to the Philippines for the first time as the longtime U.S. ally continues to butt heads with Beijing over territory in the South China Sea.
The Frederick Hatch arrived in Tacloban on the island of Leyte on Thursday and departed Monday, the Coast Guard announced in a news release coinciding with the visit’s end.
That day, the United States renewed a warning that it would defend the Philippines in case of an armed attack after Chinese ships blocked and collided with a pair of Filipino vessels in the South China Sea.
Philippine diplomats summoned a Chinese Embassy official in Manila that day for a strongly worded protest following Sunday’s collisions off Second Thomas Shoal. No injuries were reported but the encounters damaged a Philippine coast guard vessel and a wood-hulled supply boat operated by the navy.
The Frederick Hatch is a Sentinel-class fast-response cutter that was commissioned on Guam alongside its sister ships, Myrtle Hazard and Oliver Henry, in July 2021. The 154-foot-long vessels have a top speed of more than 28 knots and are designed for missions beyond the traditional search-and-rescue work for which the Coast Guard is best known.
Armed with four .50-caliber machine guns and a remote-controlled 25-mm cannon, the $65 million cutters are used for drug interdiction, defense operations, maritime law enforcement and environmental protection. They can remain at sea for five days, giving them a range of more than 2,500 nautical miles, according to the Coast Guard.
In Tacloban, the Frederick Hatch’s crew met Philippine coast guard colleagues, school children and government officials, according to Monday’s release.
“It is a privilege to bring a U.S. Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter to the Philippines for the first time and to visit the historic city of Tacloban,” the Frederick Hatch’s commander, Lt. Patrick Dreiss, said in the release. “My crew was excited to collaborate with the Philippine Coast Guard to deepen our connections with our fellow seagoing Service and explore this unique city and island.”
This visit coincided with the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which involved hundreds of U.S. and Australian ships fighting the Imperial Japanese Navy off the island’s coast in October 1944.
“We are deeply honored to be part of this observance and to strengthen the bond between the United States and the Philippines,” Dreiss said.
Tacloban’s airport served as a hub for Operation Damayan, a U.S. relief effort involving 13,400 military personnel, 66 aircraft and 12 naval vessels. They delivered vast quantities of emergency supplies and evacuated more than 21,000 survivors following Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.
The Frederick Hatch’s stop in Tacloban follows other recent interactions between the U.S. and Philippine coast guards, including a Manila port call by the Stratton, a Legend-class cutter.
The Coast Guard’s Pacific Area commander, Vice Adm. Andrew Tiongson, visited the Philippines in April to discuss shared challenges and opportunities for partnership, Monday’s release said.
“The Tacloban visit underscores the shared strategic efforts toward a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific and aligns with the Pacific Area Commander’s goals to prepare a ready force, generate combined effects, and uphold governance,” it said.