Sailors fear job loss more than pirates.
Despite the threat posed by piracy, sailors are more fearful of a ban on manning ships passing the pirate-plagued Somalia coast as it would put their families" livelihoods at risk. United Filipino Seafarers president Nelson Ramirez said a ban would adversely affect some 229,000 Filipino sailors now working on merchant shipping vessels around the world.
"How could we ask Filipino seamen be pulled off ships out of fear of what might happen?" Ramirez said in an article on the United Catholic Asian News website.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had earlier recommended to President Arroyo to impose a ban on the deployment of seafarers to foreign flagships that ply pirate-infested waters in Somalia.
Somali pirates released the previous day a Greek-owned cargo ship and its crew after detaining it since Nov. 10, 2009. The vessel, MV Filitsa, seized from the Indian Ocean carried three Greeks and 19 Filipinos.
Fifty-eight Filipino seamen on board five vessels remain in the hands of pirates, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) records show.
However, Ramirez said that the DFA's recommendation may have been based on "bad information."
He pointed out that while seamen can always back out individually with no backlash, "a ban would cost us thousands of jobs."
Reynaldo Juego, legal adviser to the Philippine Church"s apostolate to seafarers, echoed Ramirez"s concern that the ban would hurt the Filipino sailor more than protect him.
"DFA tried banning Filipino worker deployment to Jordan and Iraq a few years ago, but workers just went to other places before going to the banned areas," Juego said.
Sailors" families will suffer because their breadwinner will not find any job in the Philippines that will pay them as much as their overseas work, Juego added.
"The ban will only cost sailors their jobs" and the country its competitive edge, he said.
Protection against blacklisting
He added that without a ban, a Filipino sailor has the right to refuse assignments in hazardous areas. Sailors can repatriate to the Philippines without being blacklisted by the international shipping industry if they decide to do so.
"Since they cannot be blacklisted they are protected. DOLE has this guarantee already," he said.
The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) is the Catholic Church"s agency for the pastoral care of people who earn a livelihood from the sea, their dependents and communities.
Its former national director, Scalabrini Father Savino Bernardi, had said he was not in favor of a ban when DFA proposed one in 2008 because this would "paralyze the shipping industry."
460 Pinoy sailors abducted since 2006
DOLE records show 460 Filipinos manning 38 ships have been abducted by Somali pirates since 2006, and 402 among them have been released.
One Filipino seafarer died while in captivity due to an illness aggravated by the prolonged detention, Ermita added.
Money sent home by overseas Filipino sailors reached a record US$2.5 billion in the first nine months of 2009, DOLE reported.