Navy to convert presidential yacht into quarantine ship

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Navy on Saturday, April 4, said it would convert the presidential yacht, the BRP Ang Pangulo, into a floating quarantine facility for COVID-19 patients, following orders given by President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, April 3.

The Navy has drawn up a “feasible plan” to make the the 60-year-old vessel “with interiors like a hotel” according to Duterte, suitable as a quarantine for persons under investigation (PUI) and persons under monitoring (PUM) for the novel coronavirus, the Navy said in a statement.

With strict physical distancing, the ship can accommodate up to 28 patients and 5 medical staff. The ship’s regular crew will remain onboard

Three exclusive compartments will be allotted for patients, with temporary dividers in place. The patients will be situated at least 3 meters apart.

The patients and medical staff will have separate entry points. Passages to the crew's billeting area and the vessel’s other compartments will be sealed off from the quarantine area, the Navy said.

The BRP Ang Pangulo is currently in Eastern Mindanao where it augments the Davao operational base of the Presidential Security Group. Its commanding officer, Commander Marissa Arlene Andres-Martinez, is already coordinating with local units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and government hospitals in Davao to supply the medical equipment and other essentials, the Navy said.

In a televised speech late Friday night, Duterte ordered the Navy to turn the presidential yacht into a “hospital ship,” and to help run it because doctors and nurses have become scarce because of the pandemic.

Why not other ships?

The Philippine Navy has larger vessels, including two landing dock ships, the BRP Tarlac and the BRP Davao del Sur.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, now also the head of National Task Force COVID-19, was earlier asked whether the Navy could lend either of the landing dock vessels as a hospital ship for coronavirus patients.

Lorenzana said it was “possible but not advisable.” One of them is in Oman where it was sent in January for the possible repatriation of Filipinos in case increased violence breaks out in the Middle East. 

It would be unwise to use the other landing dock ship that is in the Philippines as a hospital because then it would not be available for defense and security purposes.

The same goes for the rest of the Navy’s vessels, the defense chief said. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.