U.S. Ambassador Thomas turns over maritime security equipment to PNP-Maritime Group in Palawan

August 31, 2012 12:57 am 

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Aug. 30 -– United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas, Jr. flew to Palawan early Thursday morning to turn over new facilities and equipment to the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group (PNP-MG) intended to enhance maritime law enforcement and interference capabilities.

The items donated include two state-of-the-art patrol gun boats (PCBs), two top of the line boat-towing heavy-duty pick-up trucks, and an outstation building in the municipality of Balabac at the southernmost tip of Southern Palawan.

He was joined at the simple turnover ceremony by Western Command Lt. General Juancho Sabban, Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn, and other key Philippine National Police and PNP-Maritime Group officials.

The dedication, said Ambassador Thomas, “marked a significant milestone for the project that started in 2006. The Special Boat Unit (SBU), which was born out of a joint proposal by the PNP and the U.S. Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), was to make a modern police unit fully capable of enforcing maritime law.”

Since the start of its operation in 2010, Ambassador Thomas said the SBU has made more than 200 arrests at sea and seized 17 vessels and an assortment of contraband amounting over US$ 1.1 million. Those who were arrested, he said, “are involved in crimes related to illegal fishing, harvesting of protected marine and other environment products, cigarette smuggling, petroleum smuggling, and possession of illegal drugs and weapons.”

The U.S. Ambassador took note to also mention that the SBU was able to likewise evacuate 160 people during emergencies in Palawan, and rescued more than 50, including those who have fallen victims to human trafficking.

“These accomplishments are an important reminder for why we continue to invest in the PNP Special Boat Unit to fight transnational crime, combat the scourge of human trafficking, save lives and protect the environment,” said Ambassador Thomas.

“This partnership has greatly increased the capabilities of our partners to confront longstanding transnational organized criminal activity,” he added.

Hagedorn, on the other hand, thanked the U.S. Government through Ambassador Thomas for its continued support to maritime law enforcement in the Philippines, particularly in Puerto Princesa and the province of Palawan.

He said that through the donation of the maritime security equipment, the SBU which has a mother station at Honda Bay, Barangay Sta. Lourdes in Puerto Princesa, can help improve the protection of both man and the environment from illegal activities perpetrated by unscrupulous individuals.

In an interview with the media shortly after the turnover ceremony, Ambassador Thomas said that in the coming months, the total amount donated by the U.S. Government as part of the SBU project will reach US$ 9 million or over P380 million. This will be in the form of a total of six PGBs with accompanying spare engines and other parts; construction of and upgrades to the SBU headquarters facilities; the new Balabac Outstation, with two additional outstations to be constructed in the towns of Taganak and Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, other essential operational gears; and thousands of training hours with personnel of the PNP-MG.

The ICITAP aide is supported by funding and training from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Inter-Agency Task Force-West and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. (PNA)

LAP/CARF/UTB

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