MANILA: Two Philippine Navy vessels set sail for the Middle East on Tuesday to evacuate overseas Filipino workers amid rising tensions in the region.
President Rodrigo Duterte sent off at Manila's South Harbor the BRP Davao Del Sur and the Del Pilar-class offshore patrol vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz to assist in the repatriation of OFWs.
He said it was “a sacred mission” to safeguard the lives of Filipinos in the Middle East. “That is not a joke. It runs into millions, men, women, and their families, and their children,” he said.
The vessels have 130 crew members each, with an additional 100 medical, repair and SEAL personnel to support them.
Tensions have been high in the Middle East since a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US airstrike. Iran retaliated by launching missiles at an air base in Iraq used by US forces.
Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said the journey to the Middle East would take between 16 and 22 days. Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia this week to personally assist in the evacuation effort.
The Department of National Defense said that requests for repatriation in Iraq, Libya and other countries in the region had been received by Philippine embassies and consulates, and that exit clearance documents had been processed.
The government’s repatriation team in Doha consists of diplomats who are exploring all possible routes by commercial airlines from Baghdad and Irbil in Iraq to Doha, and then on to Manila.