'Rusty Navy ship symbol of PH sovereignty'

By Jaime Laude, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 22 2014 02:12 AM | Updated as of Apr 22 2014 10:12 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Navy "ghost ship" BRP Sierra Madre, now grounded at Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, might have lost all her naval might but the vessel is now playing a major role in the country’s maritime sovereignty and economic interests in the territorial dispute with mighty China.

The dilapidated Sierra Madre, on her own and guarded only by a handful of Marines, has also become a rallying point of the government and the Philippine Navy (PN) in handling and addressing peacefully the prevailing territorial dispute.

“She’s out there at Ayungin Shoal not to do naval combat but as a peaceful symbol of our country’s sovereignty over the area. She’s playing a role that our other vessels of her class could not perform without adding to the prevailing tension over the area,” a senior Navy officer said.

Picking the path to resolve peacefully its maritime dispute with China through the legal arena, the government has disallowed the use of the Navy’s combat-ready vessels around Ayungin Shoal, which is near Palawan.

Tagged as a ghost ship by American sailors, the former troop transport vessel Sierra Madre is now rusty and beyond repair, its sailing days clearly over.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano earlier said that the Navy would conduct repairs on the Sierra Madre to prevent the vessel from collapsing.

At present, the ship that the government grounded at Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to monitor China’s aggressive move in the area is tilting slightly to portside and thick rust has started eating at its metal beams and trusses.

The BRP Sierra Madre was formerly commissioned in the US Navy as the Landing Ship Tank 822 (LST) USS Harnett Country during World War II and also served as a hospital ship with a mortuary for American soldiers killed in action during the war. – With Michelle Zoleta