Union seeks Philippines protection

May 16, 2009 12:00 am

, MANILA, May 16 – A union representing the Philippines’ 350,000 merchant seamen on Saturday demanded better protection for the sailors in Africa and warned freed victims of pirates may sue their employers for damages.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines wants Manila to put pressure on the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to follow the example of the United States, which it said has ordered all US-flagged vessels sailing through the Gulf of Aden to post guards to ward off pirate attacks.

"The Philippines should be the one pushing the IMB hard for superior safety since we are the biggest supplier of sailors, with more than 350,000 Filipinos on international shipping vessels at any given time," said union secretary general Ernesto Herrera.

The London-based IMB, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, has a Kuala Lumpur-based monitoring centre dedicated to suppressing piracy and armed robbery against ships.

The Philippine labour group, which includes the Philippine Seafarers Union, said 242 Filipino sailors on foreign vessels had been seized in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia since 2006, with 59 from five ships still being held hostage.

The figure excludes Filipino sailors taken hostage by separatists in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta.

The Nigerian army announced in Lagos on Saturday that six Filipinos and four Nigerians held hostage by militants aboard a ship in the volatile area were rescued overnight by Nigerian security forces.

"The possibility of taking legal action against their employers is always there, particularly if the shipping firms failed to provide adequate protective measures for the crew, or disregarded prior requests for extra security," Herrera said.

He said the labour federation was closely following the case of an American chief cook of the US-flagged Maersk Alabama who has sued Maersk Line Ltd. and the manning agency Waterman Steamship Corp. for 75,000 dollars in damages after surviving a pirate hijacking in the Horn of Africa.

Pirates have carried out more than 100 attacks in the key shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean since the start of this year.


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