The ships BRP Ivatan and BRP Batak, two ships donated by Australia, are now formally commissioned into Philippine Navy service July 23, aimed to boost the Philippines’s disaster response capabilities.

The ships are named after indigenous groups, a tradition held by the country’s naval unit. BRP Ivatan is named after an indigenous group in Batanes and the other, BRP Batak after a tribe in Palawan. The two former vessels of the Royal Australian Navy used to be known as HMAS Tarakan and Brunei.

The two Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) vessels were formally handed over to the Philippines in a ceremony held in Cairns, Australia, Navy public affairs chief Commander Lued Lincuna said.

The vessels were refurbished with new safety and navigation equipment prior to the handover.

A memorandum of understanding transferring the two ships to the Philippines was signed by Navy chief Vice Adm. Jesus Millan and Royal Australian Navy chief Vice Adm. Tim Barret.

The LCH vessels are now travelling and are expected to arrive in the Philippines in the first week of August.

In his acceptance speech, Millan thanked the Australian Navy for donating the ships to the Philippine military, one of the weakest in the region. It will boost the country’s naval arsenal, where out of the 7 ships including the newly-donated ones, two are non-functional.

The two LCH vessels are expected to enhance the Philippines’s capability to transport personnel, equipment and aid during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

“The vessels will also be useful in transporting troops from one operational area to another,” Lincuna said.

The Philippines has expressed interest in acquiring the rest of the Balikpapan fleet. Three other LCHs – HMAS Wewak, Betano and Balikpapan – remain in Cairns as the Philippines finalises its purchase with the Australian government, due to settle later this year.