Why the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Chairman, Senator Richard Gordon, made such a big fuss over the arrival of the country’s first and only humanitarian vessel, the motor vessel Amazing Grace, can be attributed to its strange origins.
As readers could see from the drone photo of the vessel docked on the beach of Cabcab, San Andres, it is big enough to dwarf the barangay and the pier. It is 66 meters long and 18 meters wide, larger than RSL’s M/V Calixta 5 which is 49.8 meters long and 10.42 meters wide, although they nearly have the same gross tonnage at 960 tons for the Amazing Grace and 898 tons for Calixta 5.
According to various accounts on the Internet, the vessel was built in 2010 at a cost of $80 million at the request of the US Office of Naval Research, which wanted one that has deep enough draft for strong waves and shallow enough for unloading vehicles on a beach.
The experimental variable draft Expeditionary vessel (E-Craft) was designed by Guido Perla & Associates, Inc., with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough becoming involved in the project because they needed a ferry that could land at established docks and at remote beaches, one that could even break through ice on the sea surface.
One of the most complex and unique surface vessels ever built, the M/V Susitna as it was first called, was capable of carrying 129 passengers and 20 vehicles or one tractor trailer.
The design incorporates a Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) and lift technology that allows her to change from SWATH mode to barge mode by lowering or raising its center deck.
“When operating in deep draft mode, the middle section, which is made from aluminum, sits high above the water, flush with the passenger compartments on both sides of the vessel. At this point, it’s essentially a deck suspended between the two hulls,” said an article on the ship.
“But when a pair of 50-hp electric motors energize the hydraulic system, the center deck section can be lowered 21 feet. As the deck is pushed into the water, it becomes a hull with significant flotation. At the bottom of its travel, the twin hulls on each side have been pushed up from a draft of about twelve feet to only four foot six. You then drive the ship’s nose onto the beach, the bow door opens and tanks or trucks can roll off,” it adds.
The Susitna was to be donated to the borough to provide ferry service but lack of funds and landing terminals prevented it from ever entering service in Alaska, eventually costing taxpayers nearly $3 million in fees and maintenance costs.
In 2015, the Philippine Red Cross jumped at the change to buy the idled vessel from the borough for $1.75 million.
The vessel was towed to Seattle and then loaded into a barge, which was then towed to the Philippines in 2016. Inaugurated in 2017 with no less than President Rodrigo Duterte as guest of honor, M/V Amazing Grace was to be used as a rapid transport and landing vessel for Red Cross’ emergency units, providing relief supply transport, medical deployment, sea rescue and mass evacuation, humanitarian logistics, command post operations, and humanitarian education and training.
But it never did leave the ports of Manila and Subic for its stated duty, as it underwent numerous repairs and modifications. It was only last month that it finally made its first travel to a disaster site, with the ship taking 35 hours from Batangas port to San Andres.
It made a beach landing eight hours late because it got caught by the low tide after the senator chose to have a live TV interview at the Red Cross headquarters in Virac instead of having the same at the Cabcab beach (there was no signal there).
Although the twin-hulled vessel is supposed to cut through choppy seas, it chose not to dock at the island’s southern end (Virac and Bato) because the bay is open sea, according to the captain.
An officer claims that a Philippine Navy technical team inspected the Red Cross ship and found it to be too expensive to maintain and operate.
Although he did not say how much fuel M/V Amazing Grace’s engines ate per hour traveling at sea, BRP Tarlac consumes nearly 900 liters of diesel fuel per hour.
As to how much the Red Cross spent to bring it here and then have it undergo modifications, only Sen. Gordon and the top management knows.
THE BLIND DATE. “How was your blind date?” a college student asked her twenty-one year old roommate.
“Terrible!” she moaned. “He showed up in his 1932 Rolls Royce.”
“Wow! That’s a very expensive car. What’s so bad about that?”
“he was the original owner.”