Navy sends out patrol ships amid fear of COVID-19 strain from Sabah

Roel Pareño - Philstar.com
Navy sends out patrol ships amid fear of COVID-19 strain from Sabah
In this October 2018 photo, BRP General Mariano Alvarez participates in a maritime drill.
Naval Forces Western Mindanao

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — The Philippine Navy has deployed more patrol ships as the military and local government units intensified screening against a new variant of the coronavirus that might enter from nearby Sabah.

Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) commander, has directed all joint task forces in the command to intensify patrols and block the entry of ships coming from Sabah.

Vinluan said Joint Task Force Sulu and Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi has been coordinating local government units in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, which are only a short boat ride away from Sabah.

Commodore Toribio Adaci Jr., Naval Force Western Mindanao commander, said Tuesday his command has deployed four patrol ships to secure the maritime borders.

"NFWM deployed its floating assets to intensify border patrol operations and closely monitor all watercraft in the southern border of the country. NFWM aims to assist the local government units and local government agencies in the area to prevent the possible spread of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in Western Mindanao," Adaci said.

He said that aside from the four patrol ships guarding the area between Taganak Island and Sibutu Island that ships from Malaysia sail through, more ships have been sent from Zamboanga City to help in the patrols.

The Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police's Maritime Group will also help implement measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A shipping company based in the city has already suspended its ferry to and from Sandakan in response to the risk posed by the new strain.

"With the new strain, it means we need to work harder, to act faster to prevent its entry and spread in the community," Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said.

She has called the local legislative body to hold an emergency meeting to pass a resolution for a moratorium on travel between ZamBasulTa and Sabah.

Salazar said incoming passengers and vessels from Sabah will be intercepted and will be quarantined.

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