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46 Filipino seafarers being held by Somali pirates -- DFA

As 3 more ships seized in Gulf of Aden First Posted 00:52:00 08/22/2008

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MANILA/KUALA LUMPUR?(UPDATE) Sixteen Filipino seafarers were among the 19 crewmembers of a Japanese-owned chemical tanker seized by pirates off Somali coast Thursday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

This came two days after Malaysian-registered MT Bunga Melati with 29 Malaysian and 10 Filipino crewmembers on board was also hijacked by pirates, bringing to 46 the number of Filipinos being held captive in the lawless East African country.

Aside from the Japanese ship MT Irene, a German and an Iranian vessels were seized Thursday off Somalia in an unprecedented series of attacks, said Noel Choong, head of the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre.

The incidents brought to six the number of ships menaced in the Gulf of Aden in the past month, said Choong.

In Manila, Foreign Affairs spokesman Claro Cristobal clarified Friday that 46 Filipinos, not 26 as earlier reported, are being held captive by the Somali pirates.

Aside from the 10 Filipino crewmembers from MT Bunga Melati 2 and the 16 from MT Irene, 20 other Filipino seafarers from MV Stella Maris were seized on July 27.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. on Thursday said he has instructed the Philippine embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, and Nairobi to coordinate with the shipowners, international maritime authorities, and host governments on efforts to secure the safe and speedy release of all captives.

Also on Thursday, a German-operated cargo ship, flying the flag of Antigua and Barbuda, was the last to be targeted, at 0945 GMT, while the Iranian and Japanese tankers were hijacked earlier in the day between 0200 GMT and 0300 GMT.

Choong said the attacks took place very near to each other, but he was not able to say whether the same group was responsible.

"Whether it's a different group of pirates, we can't tell until an investigation is carried out. We have sent out an urgent warning to all ships travelling through the Gulf of Aden," he told Agence France-Presse.

"We want to pressure the United Nations and the international community to do something about it, to take steps to stop this menace," said Choong.

"Without UN intervention, we can't do anything because Somalia has no central government."

The waters off Somalia and Nigeria are the most pirate-infested in the world, with the IMB reporting 24 attacks in Somalia and 18 in Nigeria between April and June this year.

Of the 24 Somali attacks, 19 occurred in the Gulf of Aden off the country's north coast.

Last week, a Thai cargo ship was hijacked and a week before that, a Singapore-flagged vessel was attacked by pirates who fired a rocket-propelled grenade that landed on the ship but did not explode.

On July 20, pirates seized the Stella Maris, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier, and demanded a ransom from the owners.

Conejos on Thursday also confirmed that the 14 Filipino seafarers arrested in Somalia several months ago for the alleged theft of oil have been released and have returned home last week.

Conejos could not say if the accused Filipinos were released on bail or the charges filed against them were dropped.

"All I know is that the case against the shipowner continues," he said.

The Filipino crewmembers of MT Lina Panama were arrested on July 10 as they allegedly attempted to leave Nigerian territorial waters with the ship carrying stolen crude.

But the ship?s Filipino captain, Rev Chavez, has said they knew nothing about the stolen crude and that they were in fact the victims of an attack by pirates in the region.

Chavez said they were on their way to Angola from Cotonou, the capital of Benin, when they were attacked.

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