A Philippine Navy chaplain (top, R) sprinkles holy water to bless the Navy's six new Small Unit Riverine Craft (SURC) donated by the U.S. government, during a handover ceremony at navy headquarters in Manila September 25, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
The United States gave the Philippine military six patrol boats Wednesday to be used in a southern region where armed Muslim militants are active, the military said.
The small-unit riverine craft (SURCs) are part of a US programme to train and equip foreign military forces for "counter-terrorism", Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Alano said in a statement.
"The SURCs will be deployed to augment our sea-based forces to address terrorism and lawlessness such as the current crisis in Mindanao," Alano added.
For the past three weeks, thousands of elite troops have been battling Muslim guerrillas of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who occupied several coastal villages in the key southern port of Zamboanga on Mindanao island.
Mindanao and nearby island groups are also a hotbed of other armed groups including communist guerrillas, bandits and Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic extremist group blamed for the country's worst terror attacks.
Funded by the late Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, Abu Sayyaf has targetted foreigners with kidnappings for ransom.
The group killed two Americans in a 2001 hostage crisis that lasted more than a year.
US troops have been based in the southern Philippines since 2002 to help train local troops in hunting down members of the Abu Sayyaf, which is on the US government's list of so-called foreign terrorist organisations.
Designed to patrol rivers and coastal areas, the high-speed, small-unit riverine craft can carry 14 fully-armed marines and six crew members, Philippine marine spokesman Captain Rowan Rimas told AFP.
The boats are worth a combined $12 million, he added.