PRESIDENT Arroyo of Philippines has banned Filipino seafarers from crewing ships passing through the Gulf of Aden following stepped up hijackings and kidnappings by Somali pirates.
Press Secretary to the President, Cerge Remonde told Radyo ng Bayan last week that “President Arroyo issued a series of directives banning the deployment of our seafarers on the pirate-threatened sea lanes and the stepping up our efforts to recover our kababayans who are still held hostage by these pirates.” The mechanics of how the ban will be implemented were not disclosed.
The number of Filipino seafarers in the hands of Somali pirates rose to 108 after a Belgian-flagged shipped was hijacked off Seychelles hundreds of kilometres from the coast of Africa.
According to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the marine vessel Pompei was carrying 10 crew members, including three Filipinos, when it passed the Gulf of Aden.
Other nationalities in the ship were two Belgians, one Dutch and four Croatians.
Aside from the Pompei, hijacked ships carrying Filipino seamen included MT Stolt Strength (23), MV Saldanha (19), Napayia (18), WinFar 161 (17), Malaspina Castle (6) and MV Irene (22).
Belgian government officials said they have yet to make contact with the pirates but believe that the ship is already heading towards the Somali coast.
“There is no contact with the pirates, not with the crew, not with any other parties,” said Belgian Crisis Center Director General Jaak Raes.
As of last Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) pegged the number of abducted Filipino maritime workers at 105.
The DFA has asked the Philippine Embassy in Nairobi to validate the report and make appropriate inquiries.
DFA Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said the Philippines has expressed full support to international efforts to fight the piracy menace in Somali waters.
“We have brought the matter of the menace of piracy to the attention of the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations, and other fora. We will welcome and will fully support future actions by the world body to put this problem to an end,” Conejos said.
Conejos said they have asked Philippine security officials to make proper representation to the Combined Maritime Forces based in Manama, Bahrain.
Since 2006, a total of 227 Filipino seamen who were abducted in Somalia have been released without any intervention from the Philippine government, Conejos said. The Philippines is the world’s leading supplier of crew, with over 350,000 sailors manning oil tankers, luxury liners and passenger vessels worldwide.
Undeterred by a US military operation that rescued an American ship captain over the weekend, pirates have continued to commandeer ships off the Gulf of Aden.
Despite the risks, private companies still see the seas surrounding the Horn of Africa as a cost-effective means for moving goods with as many as 20,000 ships travel these waters annually.