Under the shade of the tall trees that line the sidewalk at Rizal Park, Marlon Arguelles scanned the job notices posted on the recruiting booths, a jumble of laser printouts marked with huge U.S. dollar signs.
Rizal, just off Manila Bay, is where Filipino sailors go seeking the best job offers, and where recruiters bid for the best sailors. On any given day, between 700 and 1,000 Filipino men try their luck in this sailors’ market.
There has always been an element of risk in the seafaring life, but these days, with piracy resurgent off the Horn of Africa, the dangers have seldom been more glaring. Nevertheless, in the Philippines, whose citizens make up nearly a third of the world’s commercial sailors, economic considerations trump concerns for personal safety. Recruiters say they’ve seen little falloff in demand for jobs on even the most dangerous routes.
Arguelles, 28, was looking for a job as a ship’s cook. Many of the agencies were offering between $1,000 and $2,000 a month for the position. But he said he needed more money than that to help care for his mother, who suffers from hypertension.
And so he was interested when he heard that one recruiter was looking for crewmen for an oil tanker that would pass through the Gulf of Aden. According to the International Maritime Bureau, 63 of the 199 incidents of piracy or attempted piracy that were reported worldwide from January to September occurred in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia.
“I know it’s dangerous but the agency is offering twice the salary,” said Arguelles, who sometimes helps out in his parents’ shop back home in Quezon, in the northern Philippines. “Besides, think about it: the pirates haven’t killed any crew members so far, so it could be harmless.”
Indeed, according to reports of some Filipino sailors who were freed late last month by Somali pirates, it could even be fun. The all-Filipino crew of the Greek-owned tanker Centauri, which was hijacked in September, told news agencies that the pirates treated them well, even playing cards with them and sharing meals.