Monday, November 01, 2010

Group calls for "panic rooms" in ships crossing Pirate Alley

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Nov. 1, 2010) - The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines on Monday urged the International Maritime Organization to compel ships using the so-called "Pirate Alley" off Somalia to build in fortified rooms where crew members can hide in the event of an attack.

TUCP secretary-general Ernesto Herrera, a former senator, said the installation of "panic rooms" should be among the additional defensive measures taken by merchant ships to thwart pirates prowling The Gulf of Aden.

Apart from communications equipment, Herrera said the secure rooms should have adequate food, water and ventilation provisions to enable crew members to survive until they are rescued.

TUCP is a national labor center whose member organizations include the Philippine Seafarers Union, an affiliate of the London-based International Transport Workers' Federation.

Herrera cited the rescue of 16 crew members aboard the German freighter MV Beluga Fortune, which was seized by Somali pirates on October 24.

"We are grateful to the British and German forces that retrieved the sailors who were mostly Filipinos," Herrera said in a statement.

The sailors were rescued unharmed after they sent out a distress call, cut off the ship's fuel supply, shut down all power on the bridge, and dug themselves in a safe room before they could be overwhelmed by the pirates.

Unable to take charge of the ship, or hold any crew member hostage, the pirates were eventually forced to abandon the vessel. The marauders were already gone when British and German forces rescued the crew members.

TUCP's call for "panic rooms" came immediately after pirates hijacked yet another vessel, the Panama-flagged tanker MV Polar, off Somalia. The ship's 24 crew members included 16 Filipinos.

The Gulf of Aden is part of the vital Suez Canal shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean. The gulf is known by the moniker "Pirate Alley" on account of the growing piracy in the area.

Over 21,000 ships navigate the Gulf of Aden every year, and Herrera said many if not all of them are bound to have Filipino sailors on board.

Foreign shipping firms, mostly based in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Japan, Norway, Germany, Greece, Cyprus, and Singapore, employ more than 350,000 Filipino sailors. Without counting the MV Polar and its crew, Somali pirates are still holding 19 vessels with 428 hostages.

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