The Philippines has given Manila-flagged merchant vessels the go-ahead to deploy private security groups to minimize the risk Filipino seafarers face from Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The move, however, is “subject to Philippine shipping companies” adherence to strict guidelines promulgated by the Maritime Industry Authority and the International Maritime Organization,” the DFA said Monday.
“In their participation at meetings to combat piracy in the IMO, the United Nations and other fora, Philippine government officials have been advocating the importance of promoting the safety of Filipino seamen. This advocacy is being supported by other governments,” it also said.
A total of 26 Filipino seamen on board three foreign-flagged vessels are still being held by pirates in east Africa.
“The longest one in detention is a crew member of the MV Iceberg 1, which was hijacked by pirates on Jan. 29, 2010 off the Port of Aden in Yemen,” the DFA disclosed.
Between 2006 and 2011, a total of 769 sailors from the Philippines were seized by pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. It is believed that all but the 26 were released unharmed and upon payment by their principals of ransom.
Earlier this month, the DFA said the government had come up with a plan to protect Filipino sailors from Somali pirates.
The plan calls for, among other measures, the adoption of what the merchant shipping industry refers to as “best management practices,” DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez had said.
These practices–or ship protection measures–include watch and lookout arrangements, installing anti-piracy alarms and razor wire around the vessels, using water cannons that blast steam and hot water as deterrents, and wearing night vision optics.
The government is “also making arrangements with ships’ foreign principals and local manning agencies to travel along a safe corridor” in shipping routes, Hernandez told the INQUIRER.
The Philippines is a member of the 70-nation Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which also includes the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom, among other countries.
he group has “facilitated the operational coordination of an unprecedented international naval effort from more than 30 countries working together to protect transiting vessels; worked to build the capacity of Somalia and other countries in east Africa to combat piracy; and launched a new working group aimed at disrupting the pirate enterprise ashore, including its financial network through approaches similar to those used to address other types of organized transnational crime networks,” said a US State Department report posted on the website of the US Embassy in Manila.
In a related development, Koji Sekimizu, the new IMO secretary-general, is scheduled to visit Manila next month to “confer with senior Philippine government officials on the various approaches that can be pursued to resolve the piracy threat off Somalia. The Philippines will be the first country he will visit after his meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York later this month,” said the DFA.
Early this month, Ambassador Enrique Manalo, the country’s envoy to the UK and concurrently its permanent representative to the IMO, called on the IMO head at the agency’s London headquarters.
During their meeting, Manalo “highlighted the importance placed by the Philippine government in promoting the welfare of (some 400,000) Filipino seafarers and protecting them from the continuing threat of piracy off Somalia.”
Sekimizu “appreciated the concern of the Philippines, recognizing that it is one of the primary providers of seamen to the international shipping community.”
He indicated that the piracy problem “must be addressed cooperatively by the IMO, the UN and other concerned agencies and organizations as he also stressed the need for the IMO to take the lead in addressing the piracy menace.”
The IMO official added, “the problem of piracy would be more effectively addressed if resources could be channeled to support and strengthen government institutions in Somalia. Doing so can eradicate the roots of the problem rather than for the international community to continue relying on naval protection for merchant vessels traversing high-risk areas off Somalia.”