Gov’t urged to act on seamen held off Somalia
By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines -- A labor organization called on the government on Sunday to step up pressure on foreign shipping firms to secure the release of 105 Filipino sailors held hostage in seven vessels in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia.
"No effort should be spared to safely recover all of the hostages without further delay," the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), through its secretary general Ernesto Herrera, said.
Herrera said the government should also see to it that the families of the sailors get adequate help and timely updates on the conditions of their loved ones from the shipping firms or their staffing agencies here.
"Apart from 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," Herrera said.
The former senator said the government should ensure that the captives’ families would get enough assistance to tide them over financially.
He said the government should likewise ensure active negotiations to free of all Filipino sailors held by Somali porates, and that no one has been left out or abandoned by their employers.
"This is 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,” the labor leader added.
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 been freed.
Citing Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) statistics, Herrera said more than 350,000 Filipino sailors wired home a record $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 six percent or $28.04 million versus the $463.07 million they sent home in the same period in 2008.
Herrera said the cash wired home by Filipino sailors grew more than 100 percent over the last four years, from the $1.464 billion they remitted in 2004. Sailors are able to send home large amounts because they receive higher emoluments, and they live where they work, according to Herrera. 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, according to Herrera.