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Lawmaker: Pinoy seamen deserve equal protection of law

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The Democratic Independent Workers' Association (DIWA) party-list representative is asking the House committee on overseas workers affairs to look into the recent sea piracy incidents involving Filipino seafarers.

In House Resolution 1474, filed last week by DIWA party-list Rep. Emmeline Aglipay, the "inquiry in aid of legislation" would pave the way to ensure that all Filipino seamen are "accorded the equal protection of the law."

"The inadequacy of our piracy laws necessitates additional legislative measures to make them more all-encompassing, so as not to prejudice other Filipino seafarers who are likewise prone to pirate attacks," she said.

In particular, Aglipay noted that the government should provide "double compensation and benefits" to any victims of sea piracy. Under the present rules, only victims of hijacking in "high risk" zones are given double compensation, while those who become victims in other areas are left with no recourse.

"The Philippine government must take an aggressive role in addressing the plight of our Filipino seafarers who will continue… becoming victims of these illegal activities," Aglipay said, noting that the seamen have greatly boosted the Philippine economy through their remittances.

There are over 300,000 Filipino seafarers, comprising around 30 percent of an estimated 1.2 million seafarers worldwide, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. They have remitted a total of $3.8 billion in 2010, it added.

Death of some seafarers

The death of Christopher Ceprado — one of 17 Filipino crew members of chemical tanker M/T Sea King that was attacked by heavily armed pirates last May — prodded Aglipay to file the House resolution. [See related: Kin of Pinoy seafarer killed off Nigeria seek PHL govt's help]

In this incident, the pirates looted and ransacked the vessel's equipment and took personal effects of crew members while the ship was in the port of Benin's largest city, Cotonou, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Aglipay noted that prior to the killing of Ceprado, M/V Beluga Nomination was hijacked by Somali pirates 390 nautical miles north of Port Victoria in the Seychelles on Jan. 22, 2011.

Farolito Vallega, a Filipino crewman of the M/V Beluga, was shot and killed by the Somali pirates as two anti-piracy naval patrol vessels attempted a rescue mission on Jan. 26, 2011. Also, another Filipino crewman is still missing after jumping overboard during the rescue operation.

Aglipay quoted the International Chamber of Commerce as saying there have been 248 attacks and 28 vessels hijacked worldwide so far this year.

"While the waters off Somalia continues to remain the most piracy-prone area, the risk to crews and shipping off Nigeria and its neighboring states remains high as well especially since incidents are not reported," the lawmaker said.

Aglipay, citing numbers from the International Maritime Bureau, said there are currently over 700 hostages held in over 30 vessels. Based on DFA records, at least 130 Filipino seafarers on board 11 vessels had been held captive by Somali pirates. — With Jesse Edep/VS, GMA News




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