81 RP seamen still held by Somali pirates
by Jerry Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines–A total of 81 Filipino seafarers are still being held by pirates in the east African state of Somalia and “negotiations for their release continue,” according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos assured the Philippine Daily Inquirer the foreign office has been addressing the problem.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo earlier said the DFA was coordinating with “concerned foreign countries” for the safe release of the Filipino hostages.
“We continue to work with our friends in the international community, as well as those who are patrolling the waters,” Romulo also said.
DFA spokesman J. Eduardo Malaya earlier said in a statement the foreign office has been “coordinating with (the MT Motivator’s) principals and the naval authorities in the region on measures to ensure the safety and security of the Filipino seafarers.”
The DFA “continues to provide assistance to our seafarers held captive by Somali pirates through domestic and multilateral channels,” said DFA spokesman J. Eduardo Malaya.
Malaya said it was “against government policy to negotiate directly with the pirates.”
Aside from ensuring the hostages get paid despite their ordeal, DFA personnel “also meet regularly with the seafarers’ families to update them on the condition of the captives,” Malaya told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
On August 25, Carlos Sorreta, the Philippines’ deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, called anew for “greater global cooperation in the fight against piracy.”
Sorreta told a meeting of the 15-member UN Security Council “to fight piracy, we believe that broader cooperation is key.”
“Piracy is a grave threat to international security and we join others in citing the importance of addressing its root causes through a comprehensive approach,” he said, noting the Philippine government was “grateful to the many countries involved and committed to this task,” he told council members.
The five permanent council members are the US, Russia, France, China, and the United Kingdom.
The body also groups the following UN member-countries: Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, Uganda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon, and Nigeria.
At the same time, Sorreta emphasized “beyond ships and cargoes, there is the crew.”
According to Sorreta, “the security, protection and welfare of Filipino seafarers have always been the primary concerns of the Philippine government, concerns which I am sure are shared by others with nationals serving on these ships.”
To date, nearly 500 Filipino crew members of at least 46 foreign-flagged ships have been seized by Somali pirates, he disclosed.
“Many suffer prolonged captivity, some as long as 10 months (including some of the 81 seafarers who are still being held by the pirates). It is a testimony to their courage, clear thinking and fortitude that they survive. It is a tribute to their resilience and that of their families that many are able to return to the sea,” he said.
Sorreta added they were praying for the safe release of the 81 Filipinos and hoping that “our actions today will somehow help lead to their freedom and to preventing others from suffering the same fate.”
The latest hostage-taking incident took place sometime in early July when a group of Somali pirates seized the chemical tanker MT Motivator, whose crew included 18 Filipinos.
The Marshall Islands-flagged vessel was hijacked off the Bab-Al Mandeb Strait, located between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
The 63 other Filipino hostages are crew members of the following vessels: three from the Taiwanese fishing vessel Tai Yuan; 19 from MV Samho Dream; one from MV Iceberg; 19 from MV Eleni P; and 21 from MV Voc Daisy.
Early this month, the European Union Naval Force foiled an attack by Somali pirates on a Norwegian-flagged ship with 29 Filipino seamen.
The chemical tanker MT Bow Saga was attacked by seven Somali pirates in the early morning of Aug. 3 while it was sailing on the UN-recommended transit corridor in the Gulf of Aden, said a report to the DFA by the manning agency ODF JELL Philippines, Inc.
“The ship’s captain sent out a distress call and a nearby EUNF vessel, the Spanish frigate SPS Victoria, promptly responded. The pirates tried to flee, but the frigate gave chase and after warning shorts were fired, the skiff stopped. Weapons were recovered from the pirates,” the report said.
It added, “none of the Bow Saga crew was injured. The ship only suffered superficial damages and was able to continue its journey (to an undisclosed port of all) after the attack.”
Filipinos comprise about 30 percent of the world’s 1.2 million-plus seafarers.
During the first nine months of 2009 alone, Filipino sailors reportedly remitted around $2.5 billion to their families in the Philippines.
The UN International Maritime Organization has dedicated 2010 to seamen worldwide for their “exceptional role and contribution” to the maritime industry.