Osama’s funeral barge to dock in Manila

vinson_manilaBy Schatzi Quodala, Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:11:00 05/14/2011

Filed Under: Nuclear power, Waterway & Maritime Transport, Acts of terror, Diplomacy, Foreign affairs & international relations

MANILA, Philippines—The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson faces the risk of sailing into sensitive waters when it steams into Manila Bay on Sunday for a four-day visit.

The Carl Vinson is the same warship that buried Osama bin Laden in the North Arabian Sea after the al-Qaida chief was killed during a raid by US commandos on his Pakistani hideout earlier this month.

Escorted by three other US vessels, the Carl Vinson is scheduled to dock in Manila Bay from May 15 to 18 “for a routine replenishment, maintenance of shipboard systems and crew liberty,” according to an official of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces agreement (PCVFA).

University of the Philippines political science professor Clarita Carlos yesterday said Filipinos must “pay attention to the sensitivity of our Muslim brothers considering that it has been claimed that this is the same US carrier that buried Osama bin Laden’s body at sea.”

Early this month, two Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the carrier took a low-level flight across Pakistan to deliver the US Navy Seal unit that took part in raiding Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.

After the raid, Bin Laden’s body was transferred to the Carl Vinson.

US media reports said the body was washed and placed in a white sheet in keeping with Muslim tradition. The body was placed in a weighted bag as an officer read prepared religious remarks. The body then was placed on a prepared flat board and eased into the sea.

Carlos said that when the US government announced to the world the death of Bin Laden, other countries which saw his killing as a violation of international laws and of human rights “may not have been equally jubilant.”

“Not to condone terrorist activities but we must also think about our domestic concerns and think about our Muslim brothers and not push them toward the direction of extremists,” Carlos said. “What the US did sets a very bad example regarding the concept of justice, which is really vengeance.”

Covered by VFA

The PCVFA said there was nothing irregular about the port of call.

The warships’ visit is an “approved activity of both the Philippine and US governments” and is covered by the provisions of the VFA, Foreign Undersecretary and PCVFA executive director Edilberto Adan told the Inquirer.

However, Adan said the 6,000 crew of the Carl Vinson and its escorts—the guided missile cruisers USS Bunker Hill and USS Shiloh and the destroyer USS Gridley—“should be briefed on the VFA provisions, particularly on their obligation to respect Philippine laws.”

According to Adan, the carrier group’s visit “highlights the historic relationship and defense partnership between the two countries.”

Security measures

The US embassy said the routine port call “highlights the strong, historic community and military connections between the US and the Philippines.”

The Carl Vinson is coming to Manila from Singapore, its first stop after its North Arabian Sea mission. [It had requested to port in Hong Kong two weeks earlier, but the Chinese government refused permission for the the largest warships in the world to port in Hong Kong.] From Manila it is expected to proceed to Singapore.

“While in Manila, they will undertake community relations activities, professional visits, educational tours for the Philippine Navy and courtesy calls on select (government) officials,” Adan said.

He said security measures had been taken “to ensure the safety and security of the visitors.” The Philippine Navy, says they are on ‘routine alert’, just in case any group attempts to create a protest at sea or head out to where the ship will be. They warn that any attempt to near the ship – which is ‘protected versus any form of attack’ – along with its escorts might be considered threatening and the Philippine Navy will provide a comfort zone of protection. They advised groups interested in expressing their ‘free speech’ to keep it on shore.

“Well, this was the base ship of SEAL  Team 6 – so if anyone gets too close without authorization,,, we all know how it will end.” a Philippine Navy security officer says they will do their best to ensure those who might wish to protest or express their opinion will be ‘safety cordoned off “di sila seswertehin, hwag ninyo kami subikan.. (dont press your luck – just don’t do it.)’  the Philippine Navy security officer said.

‘Ship of death’

But for Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino, the visit is “proof that the US is enforcing its selfish interests, not its purported charity missions.”

“Philippine officials should disallow this ship of death from visiting our shores,” Palatino said, warning the visit “could attract terror groups and al-Qaida cells seeking revenge and endanger the lives of Filipinos.”

Terry Ridon, chair of the League of Filipino Students, said: “The US warships better be ready with our protests.”

“They are certainly not welcome and should pull out. Their arrival will (be) but a reminder of US military atrocities and violation of the country’s sovereignty,” Anakbayan chair Vencer Crisostomo said.

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said it was “shameful for the government to play host to the US war machine.”

The VFA is currently being reviewed by Malacañang.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has defended the treaty as indispensable to the nation’s security. It also said the accord had allowed the Armed Forces of the Philippines access to new military technology, systems and practices.

Commissioned in 1982, the Carl Vinson is 1,092 feet long, has a speed of over 30 knots and a displacement of 101,300 tons.

Powered by two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors and four steam turbines, the ship has essentially unlimited travel distance.

In October 2001, it moved to the North Arabian Sea, where it launched the first air strikes in support of the so-called “Operation Enduring Freedom” against Iraq.

On Jan. 12, 2010, it was deployed to Haiti to take part in the US relief efforts in the quake-devastated country.