Sunday, June 03, 2012

Coast Guard men: Panatag mission a totally different experience

MANILA, Philippines - Undertaking duty watch at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal is a totally different mission for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

From their usual search and rescue missions, campaign against maritime pollution and protection of maritime resources, the PCG men deployed at the disputed Panatag Shoal have to endure long days, at times lasting for a month, patroling the area.

PCG spokesman Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo said that their people could not spend time on land, and are therefore physically separated from their families.

There are also instances when some of their provisions would run out because their ships were not designed to stay out at sea for long periods of time.

“There are times when they would not have enough drinking water and would run out of water for their bath,” Balilo said.

Some of their men assigned at the shoal would at times also be anxious about their fate, especially when tension in the area escalates.

“They do not know what would happen to them,” Balilo said.

This situation prompted PCG commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan to take steps to ease their burden.

“Admiral Tan sees to it that the emotional needs of our people would be checked…The welfare of our people is of paramount importance,” said Balilo.

He added, “Before they are sent to the shoal and after they completed their assignment, there would be a psychologist who would debrief our men. This effort of the commandant also shows our men that the PCG is behind them every step of the way.”

Their vessels are also equipped with a DVD player where they could watch movies or sing songs to entertain themselves and help them relax.

The crewmen were also instructed to bring and read books as part of their recreational activities.

In dealing with their Chinese counterparts, Balilo said their personnel were instructed by Admiral Tan to be cordial.

“Now there are times that when we wave at them, they would wave back at us. This would help reduce tension between the two groups,” the PCG spokesman said. “The goal is to establish a friendly atmosphere, that there would be no aggressiveness and no provocation.”

The PCG rotates its BRP EDSA with the BRP Corregidor at Panatag Shoal.

There would also be one monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) vessel, jointly operated by the PCG and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the area.

Panatag Shoal, 10 miles long and 4.5 miles wide, is being claimed by both the Philippines and China.

The Philippine government said Panatag Shoal, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is considered as an integral part of the Philippines since it falls within the 200 nautical miles of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The lagoon is 124 nautical miles from the nearest point of Zambales province.

Last April 8, a Navy surveillance plane allegedly found eight Chinese fishing boats anchored inside the Panatag Shoal. It then sent its BRP Gregorio del Pilar to conduct maritime patrol in the area.

The following day, the PCG’s civilian ship BRP Pampanga took over guarding the territory.

Evelyn Macairan| The Philippine Star | June 3, 2012 | Article Link

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