Coast Guard kicks off anti-terror, anti-piracy exercises in ZamBaSulTa area

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 22 June) – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is now conducting exercises aimed at curbing terrorism and piracy in the waters off the Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, or what has become known as ZamBaSulTa.

Philippine Coast Guard personnel during exercise. Screengrab from the PCG Facebook page

Admiral George Ursabia Jr., PCG commandant, said the week-long exercises, which is part of its Task Force Pagsasanay, started Monday.

Ursabia said the exercises will focus on anti-terrorism through boarding exercises and anti-piracy through robbery at sea interdiction. These will also test PCG’s recently acquired ship-based and coastal monitoring and communications capabilities for search and rescue (SAR) and law enforcement, he added.

Ursabia expressed hopes the PCG can ably secure the Philippines’s “maritime jurisdiction, especially the frontiers where we are needed most.”

“As a matter of fact, for our fishermen and traditional maritime traders, we have already established a lighthouse at the southernmost islets of Panguan in Sitangkai (in Tawi-tawi) and stationed personnel at Great Bacungan at the seams of the Turtle Islands, in addition to the upgrading of our station at the Municipality of Taganak in Tawi-tawi,” he said.

The exercises will bring together four capital ships of the Philippine government, namely, the BRP Gabriela Silang (OPV-8301), BRP Tubbataha (MRRV-4401), BRP Bagacay (MRRV-4410), and BRP Cape Engaño (MRRV-4411), along with Fast Response Boats from the 47 PCG stations and sub-stations in the area.

Participants in the said training include pilots and technical personnel of the Coast Guard Aviation Force (CGAF), as they utilize BN Islander Plane, PCG-251 and H145 light twin-engine airbus helicopters, CGH-1451 and CGH-1452.

The PCG commandant said the exercises will focus on the Sibutu Passage and Basilan Strait where piracy and kidnapping incidents have transpired in the past years.

“Vessel traffic monitoring and search and rescue facilities at the Sibutu Passage and Basilan Strait are now in place,” Ursabia said. “Vessels transiting this area are already better assured that a PCG unit can hear their distress calls from up to a hundred miles away through the several marine distress radio repeater stations indigenously developed and established even in unorthodox high grounds,” he added.

Ursabia said the Philippines, being a contracting party in the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combatting Anti-Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia, is fully committed to the agreement in enhancing regional cooperation through information sharing, capacity building, and cooperative arrangements.

“More PCG vessels and fast response boats are now forward deployed at 47 stations and sub-stations. I am very proud to mention that our community presence in this area have expanded 130% due to the entry of locals to the PCG. We believe such organizational enhancements, social and technological innovations and infrastructure projects, among others, have significantly contributed in the decrease on seajacking reports in the South,” Ursabia noted.

Ursabia also led PCG personnel Tuesday morning in the turnover of social welfare packs as part of a series of humanitarian missions in the southern Philippines, including the town of Maimbung in Sulu.

After visiting Sulu’s coastal towns, the PCG chief is set to sail to Tawi-tawi islands – among them the coastal municipalities of Mapun Island and Taganak Island, part of the country’s Turtle Islands (Malaysia owns the other Turtle Islands) – to transport COVID-19 vaccines. (Frencie L. Carreon / MindaNews)