Palace resurrects proposed deployment ban to So..

Halkaan ka akhri

VICTORY. BI agents load their equipment as they disembark from the Maersk Alabama in Kenya. US snipers on Sunday rescued the Alabama’s captain from Somali pirates. AP

MANILA, PhilippinesDespite strong opposition from the maritime industry, the Philippine government is keen in reviving last year’s proposed deployment ban on Filipino seafarers to pirate-ridden Somalia.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the kidnapping of 120 Filipino seafarers has become “very alarming.”

Ermita said they have advised the Labor and Foreign Affairs departments on the deployment ban but have yet to receive feedback from the two departments.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is the final arbiter of deployment bans on Filipino migrant workers based on the recommendation and assessment of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“We will ask the DOLE and of course in coordination with DFA on the necessity for us to issue an official pronouncement of a ban for seamen going into that area,” Ermita said on Wednesday.

Last year, the DFA eyed a confusing deployment ban on Somali waters, which has hit on all fronts by seafarers’ groups and various manning agencies.

Since then, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency issued Resolution No. 4, which doubles the hazard pay of seafarers crossing “high-risk waters.” It declared specific coordinates in longitude and latitude covering 516.8 nautical miles of Gulf of Aden entering the Red Sea as high-risk.

Aside from this, seafarers are also given the option to step down at the nearest port before crossing the troubled Gulf.

But engineer Nelson Ramirez, president of the United Filipino Seafarers, argued that such a policy could discourage ship owners from hiring Filipino seamen.

According to Ramirez, port authorities would not allow some crew members of a ship to disembark at a port other than its destination.

Considering that a third of the world’s seafarers (roughly 350,000) come from the Philippines, Ramirez said a ship could be crippled if its Filipino crew start disembarking before it passes through a high-risk area like the Gulf of Aden .

A total of 120 Filipino seafarers on board seven ships that range from small fishing vessels to large merchant tankers have been kidnapped by pirates since Nov. 10. The MT Stolt Strength has been held by Somali pirates for almost six months or 156 days as of Tuesday.

No repeat of US captain rescue

Despite the strong measure employed by the US government to rescue one of their nationals in a recent hijacking, Ermita said that the Philippines has no immediate plans of launching daring attempts to extract the Filipino seafarers kidnapped in Somalia.

The issue of piracy in the Horn of Africa has caught the international media’s attention after Somali pirates held an American ship captain four days in rough seas, before being killed by the US navy’s snipers on Sunday.

The Palace official is unsure whether the Philippines would have the capability to join “strong actions” against pirates should the international community especially the United Nations initiate it.

“We will just continue with the present action of actively looking at the plight of Filipino seamen and we hope that in our little way, we will be able to contribute to hastening the recovery of the seamen,” he said.

The Philippines has maintained a no-ransom policy in any kidnapping situations and has opted not to speak directly with hostage takers. Instead, the government orders the DFA to coordinate with the ship owner and manning agency to facilitate the immediate and safe release of the Filipino nationals.

Owing to the success of previous negotiations with pirates, Ermita maintained that the Philippine government would rely on manning agencies to handle the kidnapping situation of Filipinos in Somalia.

“There has been a lot of successes in the negotiations being done by the manning agencies and the shipowners and you can see the motive really other than just gaining mileage thru media is ransom money,” he said.

Somalia, which has no existing central government since 1991, has been a pirate haven in recent years. Armed with fast boats and high-powered guns, these sea bandits have successfully taken over larger, unarmed vessels through terror and speed.

Sourse – with reports from Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV
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