Hard-to-impose ban on sailors

Published by rudy Date posted on April 21, 2009

President Gloria Arroyo has ordered a ban on the deployment of Filipino sailors for commercial ships that travel in the Gulf of Aden in order to prevent more of them from being held hostage by Somali pirates.

The Gulf of Aden connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and is one of the world’s busiest waterways with some 20,000 ships passing through it each year. It is also called by its nickname Pirate’s Alley.

Pirate attacks in that vast waterway have become so numerous and serious that the United States, Germany, France, and other countries have sent naval warships to patrol the waters in order to protect merchant shipping.

Since 2006, a total of 227 Filipino sailors on foreign vessels have been seized in the pirate-infested waters off Somalia. At least 122 of them have since been freed.

Filipino sailors have a greater chance of being pirate victims because they make up one-third of the world’s merchant seamen. The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) said there were more than 300,000 of them all over the world in 2008.

It’s easy to impose a ban on work orders and deployment, but not that easy to enforce it. It’s a matter of economics really. Filipinos desperate for jobs will go to great lengths to find them wherever they are.

Deployment bans have been imposed on Filipino workers in countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Nigeria and Afghanistan for security reasons, but still they have been able to sneak into these countries illegally. When they were ordered to be repatriated, a lot of them chose to stay despite the hazardous conditions.

I reckon it would be the same for these RP sailors. For as long as there are ships willing to risk trips in the Gulf of Aden there will be RP sailors willing to man them.

Some countries like Malaysia have banned their shipping lines from passing through the Gulf of Aden. For most though, the alternative trade route, round South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, would add three weeks or more to a typical journey, pushing up the cost of goods they transport.

Thus, it would be hard to pressure all shipping lines to bypass the Gulf of Aden, or urge the International Maritime Organization for a ban on using the pirate-infested waterway.

Also, seamen when they sign up for jobs are not obliged to give notice to the government about their routes, which makes one wonder how such a ban could be enforced by government to begin with.

Govt should do more to help free RP sailors

Meanwhile, the government should step up pressure on foreign shipping firms to secure the release of 105 Filipino sailors still being held hostage in seven vessels in the Gulf of Aden. No effort should be spared to safely recover all of the hostages without further delay.

The government should also see to it that the families of the sailors are getting adequate help and timely updates on the conditions of their loved ones from the shipping firms or their staffing agencies here.

Besides the emotional distress associated with having a member in captivity, our worry is that the families of the victims might also be having financial difficulties. We presume they have not been receiving their remittances, since those who are supposed to send the money have been unable to do so, although I understand some of the shipping lines have been kind enough to continue paying the salaries of the hostages and have been sending these to their families. Nevertheless, the government should make sure that the families are getting enough assistance to tide them over financially.

The government should likewise see to it that there are active negotiations to free all Filipino sailors still being held captive, and that no one has been left out or abandoned by their employers. This, apart from ensuring that the victims are being properly looked after. It is quite possible that some of them may have become ill in captivity, or may require some medical attention.

According to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, more than 350,000 Filipino sailors wired home a record of $3.034 billion in 2008, up 36 percent, or $798.19 million compared to the $2.236 billion they remitted in 2007. In the first two months of this year, they remitted a total of $491.12 million, up 6 percent, or $28.04 million versus the $463.07 million they sent home in the same period in 2008.

The cash wired home by Filipino sailors has grown more than 100 percent over the last four years, from the $1.464 billion they remitted in 2004.

Filipino sailors are able to send home large amounts because they receive higher emoluments, and they live where they work. Thus, they do not have to spend for rent, food and utilities. Officers on foreign ships receive more than $3,000 monthly, while other personnel get around $1,250.

ernestboyherrera@yahoo.com — Manila Times

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