Philippines should lead anti-piracy voice: seafarers

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 14 2009 05:06 PM | Updated as of Apr 15 2009 01:06 AM

A leading seafarers' group called on the Philippine government on Tuesday to lead an international response to piracy off the Somali coast.

Around half of the 228 seamen aboard 13 ships being held hostage by Somali pirates are Filipinos, according to the International Seafarers Action Center.

"The Philippine government should rally the international community to take bolder steps against these marauding pirates," the group's president, Edwin de la Cruz, told AFP.

"The Philippines, being the home country of most of the victims, should be at the forefront of an international response," de la Cruz said.

As a last resort, the Philippines should also push for the deployment of an international "expeditionary force" with a UN mandate to crush the pirates and rescue the hostages, he said.

De la Cruz said the government should also force ship owners to give crew members the right to refuse to man ships in areas considered high risk.

He noted that "profit oriented" shipping companies were known to wander into hostile areas to cut travel time, making them vulnerable to attacks.

"This has become a global problem, not just a Somali problem," he said, adding that Somali pirates have vowed to step up attacks after the US Navy killed three pirates and rescued the American captain of a cargo ship attacked last week.

"We should now rally the UN and other democratic countries to exert force and real pressure against the pirates."

"The US move was a commensurate response to the problem," he said.

The Philippines is the world's leading supplier of crew, with over 350,000 sailors manning oil tankers, luxury liners and passenger vessels worldwide, official statistics show.

The Malaysia-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy reporting centre said that since January there had been 74 attacks compared to 111 in 2008 off Somalia.