Government OKs private guards on ships to protect seamen

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04:02 AM January 31st, 2012

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By: Jerry E. Esplanada, January 31st, 2012 04:02 AM

The Philippines has given Manila-flagged merchant vessels the go-ahead to employ private security on board to protect Filipino seafarers from Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The move, however, is “subject to the Philippine shipping companies’” adherence to strict guidelines promulgated by the Maritime Industry Authority and the International Maritime Organization (IMO),” 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 supported by other governments,” it said.

Pirates in east Africa continue to hold 26 Filipino seamen hostage on board three foreign-flagged vessels.

“The longest one in detention is a crew member of the MV Iceberg 1, which was hijacked on Jan. 29, 2010, off the Port of Aden in Yemen,” the DFA said.

Between 2006 and 2011, a total of 769 sailors from the Philippines were seized by pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden and 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,” said Raul Hernandez, the foreign office spokesperson.

These practices—or ship protection measures—include watch and lookout arrangements, installing antipiracy 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 the ships’ foreign principals and local manning agencies to travel along a safe corridor” in shipping routes, Hernandez told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The Philippines is a member of the 70-nation Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which includes the United States, China, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, among other countries.

The 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 Department of State 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 government officials on the various approaches that could 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.

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