MANILA – Ranking defense and military officials on Tuesday feted the contingent aboard Naval Task Force 82 for accomplishing their humanitarian mission and conducting the farthest and longest voyage of any Philippine Navy (PN) vessel in history.

The welcome ceremony for NTF 82, which consists of landing dock BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602) and offshore patrol vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16), took place at Pier 15, Manila South Harbor.

“The two vessels’ arrival also manifests the competency of the NTF leadership who was able to accomplish the mission and bring home the contingent and stranded Filipinos safely and coronavirus disease 2019-free (Covid-19) in what is considered as the farthest and longest voyage that the PN has ever covered and sustained,” said PN public affairs office chief, Lt. Commander Maria Christina Roxas, in a statement.

NTF 82 arrived in Manila Bay on June 12 and joined the celebration of the country’s 122nd Independence Day.

It repatriated 18 Filipino tourists and workers in India and another 12 in Sri Lanka who were stranded due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

NTF 82 also picked up face masks in India donated by Paul Dantes of LegalZoc Co.

Roxas said the return of the repatriates to their residences will be communicated with their respective local government units while the face mask donations will be coordinated with the Office of Civil Defense.

These efforts were made possible with the assistance of the Philippine Embassy in India headed by Ambassador Ramon Bagatsing, Jr., she added.

In his speech, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana welcomed the NTF 82 contingent and lauded them “for a job well done”.

He added that this deployment “has accomplished a lot” and it showed that the government “really cares for them (OFWs)”.

The two ships are under Joint Task Force “Pagpauli” and were deployed to Oman last January as a contingency measure should a large evacuation of OFWs be needed following tensions between the United States and Iran.

While tensions between the two countries eased, the Covid-19 pandemic prompted NTF 82 to go on another mission of transporting donated face masks and repatriation of stranded Filipinos due to travel restrictions.

Roxas said this deployment also paved the way for reinforcing diplomatic ties with Oman, Sri Lanka, and India through counterpart visits and fostering national pride through engagements with Filipino communities there.

Meanwhile, PN flag-officer-in-command, Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo regarded this mission as a tangible outcome of the Navy’s vigorous pursuit of the modernization of assets and personnel mindsets in order to provide better, efficient and prompt assistance to our fellow Filipinos wherever they are in the world.

It also magnified the importance and usefulness of reservists who voluntarily augmented this mission as subject matter experts being seasoned seafarers who have honed their exceptional expertise particularly in navigation, piloting, and marine engineering.

The two ships departed from Sultan Qaboos, Oman last April 21 and arrived in India on April 29 to fetch a donation of 200,000 pieces of face masks from a Filipino businessman based in that country, as well as 18 Filipino tourists and workers stranded due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The vessels sailed from Cochin, India on May 7 but an engine room fire aboard the BRP Ramon Alcaraz and Cyclone Amphan forced the two ships to suspend their passage home.

They left Cochin on May 27 and arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 29 to pick up 12 stranded Filipino overseas workers and tourists. The ships left the Port of Colombo midnight of May 31 for their voyage back to the Philippines. (PNA)