By Priam F. Nepomuceno
If things go as planned, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) will go into the record books as the first ever Philippine Navy (PN) vessel to transit at the Panama Canal.
Col. Omar Tonsay, PN spokesperson, said that this could be very likely as BRP Ramon Alcaraz (ex-US Coast Guard cutter Dallas) is presently moored at Charleston, South Carolina, where her commissioning crew is now undergoing training on how to handle the ship’s weapons, navigation, communications, and propulsion systems.
The ship is also undergoing refurbishment.
South Carolina is located on the US’ Atlantic seaboard making it practical for BRP Ramon Alcaraz to transit through the Panama Canal to get through the Pacific on her home to the Philippines.
The 82-kilometer Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean.
It cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade.
“She might passed through the Panama Canal on her way to Hawaii,” Tonsay added.
The PN spokesperson said this crossing might take place sometime in November.
He also said that BRP Ramon Alcaraz’s route after her Hawaii port call is similar to those followed by her sister ship BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) which also made a brief stopover in Guam before sailing for the Philippines.
Tonsay said that he knows no other Filipino warship who could vie for this honor either in the past or even in the present.
Maritime observers said that this developments speak well of the PN efforts to modernize itself and boost its power projection capabilities.
“With the arrival of our Hamilton-class cutters, which are being converted to frigates, the PN has started its first step in developing its blue-water capability or the ability to detect or engage intruders in the high seas,” they added.
At present, the PN is rated only as coastal protection naval force and nothing else.
Observers also hoped that the acquisition of these old and yet still serviceable ships would continue until the PN is capable of holding its own against other navies in the region.
The ex-USS Dallas was a high endurance cutter commissioned in 1967 at the Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans.
She was the sixth ship or boat to bear the name of Alexander J. Dallas, the Secretary of the Treasury under President James Madison (1814–1816).
The ship is one of twelve Hamilton class cutters built for the US Coast Guard.
It weighs 3,250 tons, has a length of 378 feet, beam of 43 feet, and draft of 15 feet.
Its propulsion systems consist of two diesel engines and two gas turbine engines, giving it a top speed of 29 knots.
The ship has cruising range of 14,000 miles and has a sea and loiter time of 45 days.
It has a complement of 167 officers and men.
The ship was originally equipped with an AN/SPS-40 air-search radar Mark 92 Fire Control System and armed with one Oto Melara Mark-75 76mm gun, Two Mark K-38 25mm machine gun system, two Mark 36 SRBOC systems, One Phalanx CIWS missile defense gun, along with multiple mounted M2HB .50 caliber machine guns and M240 7.62mm machine guns.