MANILA, Philippines - Twenty-four Filipino seafarers remain in Somali pirates' hands as of November this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday.
The DFA did not identify the seafarers who have yet to be freed after their ships were seized by pirates.
"The Philippine government is working continuously with ship owners and operators in order to secure their release," the DFA said in a press statement.
Around one-third of crews of all merchant vessels are Filipinos, according to DFA data.
The Philippine Embassy in London has announced that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched last month an assistance program for seafarers taken by Somali pirates in the waters off Africa.
"The Philippine government welcomes the decision taken by UNODC to complement its counter-piracy capacity-building projects in the judicial and legal systems of Somalia by creating a new program to assist seafarers who have fallen victims to Somali pirates," Ambassador Enrique Manalo said.
The United Nations has also called for stronger prosecutions of pirates and more action by shipping companies to deter bandits at sea.
At a UN Security Council debate on maritime piracy, UN deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson said that while attacks had been reduced off the coast of Somalia this year, numbers could take off again unless countries take action.
According to International Maritime Organization (IMO) figures, there were 291 attacks against ships in the first 10 months of the year and 293 crew are still hostage. East Africa, West Africa and Asia-Pacific are the worst hit zones.
Eliasson said there had to be tougher legal action against pirates.
"We need to strengthen the capacity of states to prosecute individuals suspected of piracy and to imprison convicted pirates," he said. "That effort must include deterring and suppressing the financing of piracy and the laundering of ransom money."
Eliasson also called on shipping firms to do more to protect themselves.
"Twenty per cent of vessels transiting high-risk waters do not implement security measures, and those vessels account for the overwhelming number of successfully pirated ships," he told the Security Council.
Piracy off Somalia has been curtailed because of fleets of international warships patrolling in shipping lanes and because so many tankers and freighters now have devoted security guards, according to experts.
The maritime industry estimates it is now paying at least $6.6 billion a year in extra security costs. - with a report from Agence France-Presse