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RP seamen unfazed by threats of piracy

April 14, 2009 10:35:00
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—More Filipinos than any other nationality are being held hostage by Somali pirates, but there was no dearth of seafarers looking for jobs Monday in Manila despite the threat of more confrontations.

With dozens of cargo vessels anchored empty and idle in most ports around Asia because of the financial crisis, hundreds of sailors were gathered at the city’s Luneta Park, around which many recruitment centers for seafarers are located.

“Those pirates are the least of my concern,” said Joel Estabio, 48, a chief steward on an oil tanker.

“I’ll take the risk rather than see my family die in hunger. If something terrible happens to me aboard any tanker, my wife and children would get something from my insurance and from my employer. Here, they get nothing.”

About 40 percent of 800,000 seafarers around the world are Filipinos. And of nearly 250 sailors being held by the pirates, almost 100 are from the Philippines.

Although the hostages have been treated relatively well so far, the pirates have threatened repercussions after Sunday’s dramatic rescue of a US cargo captain by special forces, who killed three pirates and took one into custody.

Aware of dangers

Most job seekers said they were aware of the dangers in waters near Somalia and around the delta region in Nigeria where pirates are active.

But there was no mistaking their eagerness to get back to sea.

“The risk we face is really worth it,” Bong Alejandro, 35, a second mate on bulk carriers.

“We get extra pay and the chances of getting caught by pirates either in Nigeria or Somalia are really slim. We have come to accept these pirate attacks as part of our job.”

Although Estabio and Alejandro said they were concerned about Filipinos held captive by Somali pirates, they believed the sailors would not be harmed because their kidnappers were only interested in ransom.

“As long as you obey them, you do not resist or attempt to escape, you’re just fine,” Estabio said, recalling what his ship’s captain had told them in case pirates would capture them.

“Just give them what they want, there’s no point in arguing with them. They just want to get your cargo, your money and other valuables.”

RP gov’t prefers peaceful means

There have been calls for tougher measures against pirate gangs, but the Philippine government has favored more peaceful means to free the captives.

In any case, Manila, largely lacking the resources the United States or Europe could bring to bear, is effectively helpless in dealing with the problem.

Ed Malaya, foreign office spokesperson, said the government was “relieved to learn about the rescue” of the American ship captain and assured families of 98 Filipinos held in Somalia that Manila was doing its best to secure their release.

Some sailors did plan to play it safe.

“The best way to avoid crossing the path of these people is to stay away from them,” said a 45-year-old tanker captain at the Luneta Park who gave his name only as Butch.

“So, I’m looking for vessels that operate only around Asia or in Europe. Before I sign in, I would ask if the shipping company operates worldwide. Then there’s a chance the vessel would come near Somalia, so I’d rather be on the safe side.”

Reuters

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