MSC ships help victims of typhoon in Philippines

MSC ships help victims of typhoon in Philippines

By Edward Baxter, Aug. 2008
SEALOGFE Public Affairs

Military Sealift Command Maritime Prepositioning Ship USNS GYSGT Fred W. Stockham, fleet replenishment oiler USNS Tippecanoe and combat stores ship USNS Niagara Falls assisted in relief efforts after Typhoon Fengshen wreaked havoc in the central Philippines in late June. The typhoon, which packed winds of almost 90 miles per hour, caused heavy seas, mass flooding and mudslides.

At the request of the Philippine government, President George W. Bush ordered U.S. Navy ships to render quick response to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines in relief efforts.

Niagara Falls, which was docked at Subic Bay, Philippines, when the typhoon struck, went into action.

"When we received orders to assist in the disaster, we had one day to order, receive and onload 168,000 bottles of water," said Navy Ensign Stephanie Titus, the ship's material control officer.

Once loaded, Niagara Falls was one of the first on scene to assist, sending water ashore to Kalibo on the northwest corner of Panay Island, one of the hardest hit areas in the Philippines.

"The ability of the crew to react so quickly and work as a team was essential to rapidly get critical materials to support the cause," said Niagara Falls' civil service master Capt. Dan LaPorte.

On July 1, helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan picked up 3,600 water bottles from Tippecanoe which is more commonly used to refuel ships at sea and delivered the water to Roxas City and Kalibo airports on the island of Northern Panay.

Typhoon Fengshen caused more than casualties ashore. A commercial passenger ferry, MV Princess of the Stars, capsized June 21 with more than 700 passengers aboard when huge waves from the storm overtook the ship as it was sailing from Manila to a resort island in another part of the Philippines.

At the direction of U.S. Pacific Command, Stockham assisted.

Capt. Perry Seyler, civilian master, positioned Stockham about three miles from the partially submerged Princess of the Stars, which tilted and went belly up after running aground off Sibuyan Island. After the weather calmed June 23, Stockham's crew launched rigid-hull, inflatable boats to look for any survivors. The crew also delivered nine Navy divers to the scene, where they worked alongside Filipino coast guard divers to conduct an initial assessment of the wreckage.

Stockham's embarked helicopters flew 34 total hours looking for survivors over 17,000 square miles of ocean. Some survivors were found in the water, and some were seen stranded on a remote island. The helicopter crews relayed coordinates to the Filipino coast guard to assist the victims. Stockham's helicopter transported one victim from Burias Island to Romblon Island for medical treatment.

In addition to helping with the search for survivors of the ferry capsizing, Stockham's helicopters flew 36 hours supporting the Reagan Strike Group's relief efforts on Panay Island delivering 17,350 pounds of rice and other supplies ashore.

"We're glad to be here assisting any way we can," said Navy Capt. Brad Smith, the officer in charge of Stockham's military detachment.

As a result of the relief efforts, which concluded on July 3, MSC ships and the Reagan Strike Group delivered more than 519,000 pounds of supplies ashore.

The assistance provided by the strike group and MSC's three ships was met with great enthusiasm by the people of the Philippines.

"We simply cannot put into words how grateful we are for your operational assistance," said Gen. Alexander Yano, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff.

"You joined us and made it all look very easy," said Navy Rear Adm. James Wisecup, commander of Carrier Strike Group 7 in a personal message to the masters and crews of all three MSC ships. "You have eased the suffering of thousands." - Timeline 2008