Former Navy research ship sailing for new home in Philippines
By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 12, 2016
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — A former Navy research ship given to the Philippines is set to sail out of Pearl Harbor on Thursday en route to its new home.
The BRP Gregorio Velasquez, formerly the R/V Melville, is the Philippines’ first dedicated marine research vessel.
The Navy formally transferred the vessel’s ownership during an April 27 ceremony at Naval Base San Diego. The crew then sailed for nine days to reach Hawaii and will stop in Guam before heading to the Philippines.
The U.S. has been trying to help the Philippines bolster its maritime presence as the country confronts claims by China over much of the South China Sea lying off the coast of the western island of Palawan. China has aggressively used its maritime fleet, which dwarfs the Philippines’, to stake its claim in the disputed Spratly Islands.
The Melville, first launched in 1968, had been placed on the Defense Department’s list of excess equipment slated to help the Philippines conduct oceanographic research.
The newly named Velasquez will be used to map the vast maritime domain belonging the archipelago nation.
In addition to the ship’s primary mission, it will serve as “a valuable platform in reviewing our anti-submarine warfare capability,” said Capt. Lued Lincuna, the country’s navy spokesman, according to Philippine news accounts.
Velasquez will also “enhance capacity and build capability to support the environmental protection efforts and exploration of the country for economic purpose,” he said.
During a visit to the Philippines in November, President Barack Obama announced the transfer of the Melville and the Coast Guard cutter Boutwell, which is expected to help the country conduct long-duration patrols.
“More capable navies and partnership with the United States are critical to the security of this region,” Obama said.
The U.S. previously gave the Philippines two former Coast Guard cutters, which are now among the largest ships in the country’s fleet.
America also funded the National Coast Watch Center in Manila Harbor.