PIRATES in the high-risk waters off the Gulf of Aden in East Africa have taken hostage one Filipino seafarer every six hours in the last two months. In 2007, the Philippines deployed 266,553 seafarers or about a fifth of the world’s 1.2 million ship workers. But this year alone, 213 Filipino seamen had been captured by pirates off the Gulf of Aden, of which 134 remain in custody.
Sea piracy has become more brazen but the Philippine Overseas Welfare Administration (POEA), which sets policies on the deployment of overseas workers, says the problem is “a security issue…way beyond the agency’s control.”
In reply to questions fielded by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Atty. Jennifer Jardin-Manalaili, POEA administrator, says the agency has thus adopted policies that “are merely aimed at ensuring that our seafarers are justly compensated for the added risks that they are inevitably exposed to given the circumstances.”
These policies, she explains, “are not meant to solve the security problem or claim to ensure the safety of our OFWs and prevent them from being taken hostage by pirates for, much as it wants to, it is something way beyond the agency’s control.”
(The PCIJ sent the questionnaire to secure the POEA’s side for a story on the plight of Filipino seamen navigating the coast of East Africa (Is POEA Policy to Blame? Every 6 Hours, Pirates Seize a Filipino Seaman by Roel R. Landingin). The story was published on November 21, 2008, but the PCIJ received POEA’s reply letter only last November 28.)
What follows is the full text of POEA’s reply letter:
24 November 2008
Dear Ms. Mangahas,
This is with regard to your letter which we received by facsimile on 21 November 2008. In response to your queries:
1. May we provide you with a copy of the POEA Governing Board resolution No. 04 Series of 2008 to clarify the policy set forth pertaining to Filipino seafarers on board vessels sailing or about to sail through the Gulf of Aden. In fine, GB Resolution No. 04 provides for double compensation only for the duration of he ships’ voyage in the high-risk zone. However, those seafarers who wish to sign off or not join a voyage through the high-risk zone may disembark at the last safe port, as per the provisions of governing Standard Employment Contract for Seafarers.
2. The proposal for a temporary ban on the deployment of seafarers in ships sailing into the high-risk areas was discussed extensively by the Board and other concerned sectors. The consensus was that implementing a ban would be impracticable because most of the chartered vessels commence sailing from different ports and their destinations vary depending on the requirements of the charter party. Likewise, to require the vessels to take another route instead of passing thru the Gulf of Aden would require an additional travel period of 40 days, which would mean great delay and cost on the part of the ship owner.
3. The incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Aden is a security issue which require a concerted effort on the part of the international community. In this regard, the Department of Foreign Affairs has been requested by the Secretary of Labor to make representations with the United Nations and other international organizations to adopt measures to increase security in the Gulf of Aden.
Considering that the Philippines provides approximately thirty (30) percent of the international requirement for seafarers, in all likelihood, every vessel sea-jacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden will have a substantial number of Filipino crewmen on board. Hence, the number of hostages for every vessel captured will have more Filipinos than other nationalities.
The policies adopted by the POEA for Filipino seafarers are not meant to solve the security problem or claim to ensure the safety of our OFWs and prevent them from being taken hostage by pirates for, much as it wants to, it is something way beyond the agency’s control. The policies are merely aimed at ensuring that our seafarers are justly compensated for the added risks that they are inevitably exposed to given the circumstances.
4. It is a misconception to say that added compensation offered to seafarers sailing into dangerous waters has the opposite effect in that it encourages seafarers to take on these assignments notwithstanding the risk. The additional pay provided for under GB Resolution No. 04 should not be construed as an incentive. It is more in the nature of a standard “hazard pay” given to workers whenever they are unavoidably exposed to certain risks in the performance of their duties.
It may be worth noting that the compensation is doubled only for the period it takes for the vessel to pass through the high-risk zone, which takes approximately two days. Once the vessel has reached safe waters, the regular rate will apply again. Only in the unfortunate event that the seafarer is taken hostage by the pirates does the double compensation continue in force until he is released.
I hope these answers clarify the issues you raised in your letter.
Very truly yours,
(Sgd) ATTY. JENNIFER JARDIN-MANALILI
Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA)