Of vintage vessels and steel courage: The Navy's humanitarian mission to Isabela PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 09 November 2010 14:09

San Fernando City, Pampanga -- It was a test of mettle for every Sailor and Marine on board LC 551 who braved the rough seas of the north to penetrate the waters of Isabela. As bad weather condition persisted even after "Juan" left the country and made the voyage treacherous, the men and women of Task Group 10.2 "Amianan Recovery" were determined to finish the task at hand. Their mission: deliver relief goods and heavy equipment to typhoon ravaged Isabela province.

Task Group 10.2 "Amianan Recovery" was activated in the aftermath of Typhoon "Juan" to alleviate the plight of residents, help in clearing the road networks, and to undertake engineering assistance. The Task Group led by CAPT NODOLFO V TEJADA PN(GSC) boarded the Navy's Logistic Support Vessel "BRP Dagupan City" (LC 551) at the Navy Headquarters in Roxas Blvd, Manila and immediately dispatched to Isabela at dawn of 25 October 2010.

On board the vessel were the following: four naval combat engineering teams, a 60-man rescue team, a communications team, medical team, two payloaders, trailers, and a crane used for undertaking engineering and rehabilitation of various facilities. Sailors and Marines numbering to 234 composed the Task Group that also included three representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Also on board the vessel was a 25-ton relief goods from the DSWD and ABS-CBN's Sagip Kapamilya. These goods consist of food, water, and clothing items.

The distance from the Navy Headquarters to Maconacon covers 496 nautical miles. Under normal weather condition, LC 551's voyage to the north would have been two days and 14 hours with the vessel arriving in Maconacon on 27 October at 3:45 PM. Mother Nature however, did not cooperate. As the vessel reached Cape Bojeador off the tip of Ilocos Norte on the eve of 26 October, unfavorable sea condition forced the vessel to maneuver back. LC 551 took shelter in San Fernando City, La Union where it stayed for two days. While it was moored there, the Task Group received instruction from the Northern Luzon Command to proceed to Port Irene, San Vicente, Cagayan and load relief goods and construction materials from the UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) intended for the coastal towns of Isabela.

LC 551 arrived at Port Irene in the morning of 30 October where it loaded 211 tons of cargo- hygiene kits, water kits, tents, medicines, including school items for students and teachers. Also loaded were 1,200 packs of relief goods from the Vice President as well as 2,000 GI sheets and other construction materials from the Provincial Government of Isabela. Four representatives from the UNICEF, three from Smart Communications, two from Ateneo de Manila boarded the vessel together with 52 residents of Maconacon and Divilacan.

As the vessel sailed to Isabela, rough sea condition made the voyage more difficult. Accounts from crew said that waves were as high as 7-9 meters and slamming against the freeboard (walls) of LC 551 that kept rocking the vessel. This condition made it difficult to the passengers and crew of the ship who had to endure long hours and days of a nauseatic "roller coaster ride" at sea, but this did not deter them from continuing their mission. Reaching out to typhoon victims who have lost their homes and damaged their livelihood fired up the Navy Team's resolve to carry on, and help the people of Isabela rebuild their lives. Since day one, the men and women of Task Group "Amianan Recovery" were determined to accomplish the mission despite the dangers they will face on the way.

In the afternoon of 01 November, LC 551 anchored at Aubarede Pt, Bicobian, Divilacan, Isabela. Rough seas still prevented it from reaching its destination of Maconacon which is four hours away by sea. Wasting no time, LC 551 proceeded to Palanan, Isabela in the morning of 03 November to unload relief goods. The vessel however went back to Aubarede Pt, Bocobian on the same day because of rough seas. As of Saturday noon, 06 November, all relief goods intended for the town of Palanan have been unloaded in Divilacan. As if the rough seas were not enough of a challenge, the unloading of relief goods in Divilacan was another hurdle to the Navy Team. LC 551's two Landing Craft Vessel Personnel (LCVP)- relatively small boats which can operate in shallow waters- carried the relief goods from the vessel's anchorage point and transferred them to motorized bancas provided by Palanan-LGU. The ship proceeded to Maconacon the next day to unload heavy engineering equipment, other cargo, and the relief goods from the Sagip Kapamilya which consist of 525 bottles of mineral water, 500 packs of food items, and 500 packs of clothing items.

With the Navy's limited resources, it is worth noting that the ingenuity of the officers and personnel through the years has kept LC 551 afloat and still able to accomplish the mission at hand. More than the layers and sheets of metal which vessels are made of, steel courage of our Sailors and Marines kept the mission on the go, giving hope to the residents of Maconacon, Divilacan, and Palanan, something to look forward to after "Juan" left their towns in devastation.

Recent natural calamities have put to the fore the vital role of the Armed Forces in responding to calamity affected areas. Though faced with an ageing fleet of assets, the Navy always does its best to cope with the given mission, especially when major road infrastructures are damaged and travel by land is an impossibility, the Navy's vessels become the dependable and crucial platform in the large transport of goods, men, and equipment. By this time, it is a glaring reality for the national government to seriously pay attention to the acquisition of a Multi-Role Vessel (MRV) for the Philippine Navy. It can serve as a Floating Government Humanitarian Center that can accommodate a host of immediate services by NDRRMC, DOH, DSWD, DPWH, DOTC, NGOs, and other well meaning organizations. It can load up to 7,200 tons of cargo and accommodate 500 passengers. For a country with an archipelagic nature like the Philippines and which is also frequented by typhoons every year, the MRV will not only enhance the Navy's security and defense operations, but will boost its capability in performing disaster and calamity related missions. Meantime, the Navy will have to rely on existing limited and ageing vessels.

The Sailors and Marines have been out in the sea for 11 days now and there is no sign the weather will improve in the coming days as another low pressure area has been spotted nearby. Armed with their steel resolve to help devastated communities, the heroism of the members of Task Group "Amianan Recovery" will always be remembered in responding to the call of duty amidst great and long period of danger to deliver most needed help to the victims of typhoon Juan in Isabela.