Seamen’s NGO tells gov’t to act fast on piracy problem

QUEZON CITY, July 23, 2009—The release of three Filipino seafarers, who were held hostage in Nigeria last July 20, is a welcome development; but the Philippine government still has tons of work to do in addressing the problem of piracy in the Horn of Africa.

This was the statement of seafarers’ non-governmental organization, International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC) Philippines Foundation, Inc., after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed the release of Jose Redel; Felipe Bacaling, Jr.; and Monico Bardelas, crewmen of the Vanuatu flagged oil-supply vessel MV Sil Tide last July 20.

It was the ISAC, who has sounded the alarm over another series of ship abductions and crew kidnapping in the Horn of Africa.

On March 14, their ship, together with its crewmen, was captured by alleged members of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), in Cameroon, the DFA said in a statement published on its website.

In the statement, the DFA said the local manning agency of the vessel had informed them that the Filipinos are in good condition and underwent medical examination. They have been able to talk to their families after the release, the DFA told the media.

“The Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) is coordinating with the local manning agency for the Filipino crew’s repatriation,” says the DFA.

However, the DFA disclosed, there are still four Filipino seafarers who are still held hostage by other Nigerian militants.

Atty. Joseph T. Entero, ISAC’s secretary-general said, with 40 more seafarers remaining hostages by militants in the region, the government has to act immediately before it is too late.

But he forewarns government not to take “band-aid” solutions to the problem, referring to banning seafarers on going to the Horn of Africa.

“Like we have said before, it only abets illegal recruitment,” he explained.

The maritime lawyer furthered, there is no way that a ship cannot avoid going to the Horn of Africa, especially the Gulf of Aden, being one of the world’s most important waterways.

“Most of the fleets, carrying important goods like petrol and raw materials, pass through the Horn of Africa. For this is the easiest way to reach Europe and the Middle East. Therefore, there is no escape for our mariners in going there,” he said.

He also said, sending a naval officer there will not also help; it will only worsen the already volatile situation.

However, Entero stressed, there is a need to reassess the situation for the MEND and other militant groups in the horn of Africa had already said their reasons why they abduct ships: poverty.

“Yet, let me clarify, we are not condoning such acts. What we want to tell the world is, the people there are impoverished, neglected and they are desperate to catch their government’s and the international community’s attention to help them get out of penury,” he said. (CBCP