‘Deployment ban to Gulf of Aden risky, ridiculous’

April 22, 2009

04/20/2009 | 12:48 PM

TROUBLED WATERS. French commandos on Wednesday intercept a small vessel suspected of Somali carrying pirates. AP

MANILA, Philippines – A Manila-based seafarers’ group found it impossible for the Philippines to implement a deployment ban of Filipino sailors to the Gulf of Aden and instead called the government’s recent action to curb high-seas kidnappings ‘ridiculous.’

The United Filipino Seafarers (UFS) strongly opposed the deployment ban Malacañang ordered after the number of Filipino sailors held captive by pirates in Somalia rose to more than 100, saying that ship owners would face a logistical nightmare once the ban is imposed.

In a news release posted in the Office of the Press Secretary’s website on Saturday that the Labor department issued a ban “on commercial ships “against the travel to the Gulf of Aden or within 200 nautical miles or 300 kilometers from Somalia.”

But UFS president Nelson Ramirez stressed that the deployment ban would put at risk the jobs of thousands of Filipino seafarers since almost 40 percent of merchant vessels pass through the Gulf of Aden, an important waterway for international trade.

“If the proposal is pushed through, that would mean lost opportunities for many Filipino seafarers,“ Ramirez told GMANews.TV in an E-mail.

Ramirez also opposes the plan to let Filipino seafarers disembark at the nearest port before passing through the Gulf of Aden and let them on board again once the vessel safely passed through the “danger zone.”

“No shipowner in his right mind, would even think of disembarking Filipino seafarers before his commercial vessel enters the Gulf of Aden…simply put, it is a ridiculous proposal,” he added.

Ramirez believes that the ban is nothing more than an offshoot to the the daring but successful rescue operations made by US Navy Seals to rescue American skipper Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates on April 12. [See: Kidnapped US captain freed; snipers kill 3 Somali pirates]

“Just to prove that they’ve done something they would impose the ban. [Well], their solution is not a solution [but] creates chaos and confusion,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez explained that except for UN-sanctioned vessels that usually bring in food and relief goods to the lawless African state of Somalia, there are also no commercial vessels going into or out of that country.

“So the ban cannot be imposed technically,” he said.

“In addition, the Somali pirates are not just operating near the coastal waters off Somalia or Gulf of Aden per se but actually in the waters forming the Horn of Africa, which is about one million square miles,” Ramirez said.



13 Filipino Seafarers Languishing in Nigerian Jail for almost 2 Months Now

February 4, 2009

A total of 13 Filipino seafarers, who are part of the 20-man full Filipino crew of the tanker MT Akuada, have been languishing in jail in Nigeria since November 12, 2008 following their arrest for oil smuggling activities by the Nigerian Navy.

The Filipino crewmen were apprehended by the Nigerian Navy in the high seas of Nigeria for conducting illicit oil transport operations and were believed to have dealings with rebel groups in the Niger Delta on the behest of their Greek shipowner known as Maritime Management Synergy.

There were actually 20 Filipino crew on MT Akuada but seven of them were able to escape arrest by jumping into the water at that time their vessel was about to be apprehended by the Nigerian Navy.

Upon arrest, the 13 Filipinos have been detained at Delta Naval Base before they were eventually transferred to the custody of the Port Harcourt Economic Finance and Crime Commission in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

The detained Filipino seafarers of MT Akuada include C/O Erwin Antas, 2/E Ronie Fabricante, C/E Celso Zapanta, Electrician Pedro Gementiza, AB Marcelo Galola, Bosun George Balore, AB Ruel Dosdos, AB Arjay Alvarez, OS Rolan Rao, Oiler Richard Peniano, Oiler Celso Baez, Messman Reagan, 3/E Sebastian Teodosio.

The whereabouts of the 13 Filipino seafarers was first disclosed by Mrs. Jona B. Teodosio, wife of 3/E Teodosio, to the Department of Foreign Affairs, a couple of weeks before Christmas when she got worried that she has not heard from her husband since November 2, 2008. From the DFA, she also went to the office of the United Filipino Seafarers to disclose to Engr. Nelson P. Ramirez, the president of the UFS, the details of the detention of the 13 Filipino seafarers.

The UFS has been very vigilant on Filipino seafarers being apprehended in Nigeria as it is aware that the blatant deployment of Filipino crew to Nigeria, which goes against the directive of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration since late 2007, is the handiwork of Seagem Maritime International, Inc.

Seagem is the local manning agent of the notorious Greek shipowner of unseaworthy tankers plying the Nigerian coastal trade and is believed to be in cahoots and only fronts for its dubious principal.

Indicative of the notoriety of the Greek principal of Seagem, it carries actually three corporate names including Maritime Management Synergy, Golden Carriers S.A. and Corinthian Maritime S.A. But these are merely being used to interchange ownership of their decrepit tankers to evade arrest.

Likewise the vessels of the Greek shipowner also change their names in the high seas without any proper documentation to escape detection by the Nigerian authorities.

Through its bimonthly newspaper Tinig ng Marino and its same-titled radio program aired every Sunday mid-morning at DWIZ, the UFS has disclosed harrowing stories of Filipino seafarer ordeals in Nigeria, who all were deployed through Seagem, on the tankers of the Greek shipowner.

When Mrs. Teodosio approached Seagem for details, she was hardly given any at all. She was only told that her husband and her fellow crew members of MT Akuada would be released before Christmas. The entire Holiday Season has passed but there is still no word yet on the release of the detained 13 Filipino seafarers.

Having had enough of the promises of Seagem, Mrs. Teodosio went back to the UFS office on January 7, 2009. She was also able to get the support of Mrs. Gilda Balore Samudio, daughter of Bosun George Balore of MT Akuada. Through the efforts of Engr. Ramirez, the two ladies were able to make public through various national media the state of 13 Filipino seafarers that have been detained in Nigeria for close to two months as of January 7th. They even sought the help of Vice President Noli De Castro in their public appeal to work on the safe release of their relatives and their fellow crew members.

Mrs. Samudio is still in constant communication with her father in Nigeria through text messages and her father have been telling her that the Federal Government of Nigeria has set a hefty US$50 million bail on their Greek shipowner for their release. He said that the Greek shipowner has decided to replace their Greek lawyer handling the case but is said to be still looking for a good replacement from Greece.