New life for old PH ship in disputed Ayungin shoal

Amid disputes in the West Philippine Sea, a dilapidated ship occupied by a handful of Marines seems to be the only thing that stands between the Philippines and China.

BRP Sierra Madre, a warship the Philippines deliberately ran aground the Ayungin Shoal in 1999, serves as a failing reminder of the Philippine claim on disputed seas.

The World War II-era warship has fallen into disrepair, its hull rusty and its interiors damp and decaying, even as it stands guard against nearby Chinese vessels.

Things may soon change, however, as a group hopes to give new life to the old ship by turning it into a garden which may also provide sustenance for men posted there.

An online community called “It’s No Fun in Pag-asa” is leading efforts aimed at boosting the morale of military men stationed in the border with China, as well as residents there.

In April, they have launched an online movement to gather funds and goods to be sent to the few residents in the sparsely occupied and vegetated Spratly islands.

The same group, led by activist Carlos Celdran is now pushing for the conversion of BRP Sierra Madre into a garden—possibly one where Marines can grow vegetables.

“We have the vision of turning it into a garden whether it will be a vegetable garden is still under study,” an architect involved in the effort told Yahoo Philippines.

The architect, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the project, added that if vegetables can indeed be grown in the ship, it can serve as food source for soldiers.

The project comes after heightened tensions between Manila and Beijing over a Chinese ship’s attempt to block a Filipino vessel with supplies and military men to Sierra Madre.

The standoff shone the spotlight not only on the simmering West Philippine Sea dispute, but also on the sorry state of the lone Philippine outpost and the men that hold it.

“It’s hard for them to get access to food in the area so a vegetable garden, if ever, would really of help in the well-being of soldiers in the ship,” the architect said.

He added that tending to gardens or even seeing greenery “has proven therapeutic effects,” noting that boredom and idle time is becoming a problem among Ayungin men.

An engineer who is working with the group is now studying the feasibility of the project. Among the top considerations are the present state of the ship and execution.

“I am sure that we are going to ask help in sending construction materials and other supplies to the ship since it is highly inaccessible,” the architect said.

He added that they are also hoping to use materials that are available in the Kalayaan group of islands to lower the cost and to ensure sustainability of the project.