Over 300 seafarers attended a two-day Awareness Campaign held by MPHRP Philippines at Luneta Park, Manila on 27th & 28th May. Held for 1000 days on board the MV Iceberg 1, Mr Gerald Gonzales shared his experience at the hands of the Somali pirates – how they were captured, their struggles and challenges, and how they were ‚Äúrescued‚Äù by the Puntland forces after a 12 day shoot out. The sharing became interactive when the seafarer audience asked Gerald what the authorities and the high ranking crews had done to free all of them. Mr Gonzales informed them that the authorities seemed that they could not do anything for their release as the pirates remained firm on their demands and they were torturing the crew.
The MPHRP Programme Director, Mr Roy Paul from London, spoke about the realities of the maritime industry and the impact of armed robbery and maritime piracy to the ship owners, the seafarers and other stakeholders. He explained that during captivity the governments cannot be involved as it is a business deal between the owners and the pirates. After the crew are released this is when the government agencies can, and do, help in assisting the families. He said he was sad that POEA Administrator Hans Cacdac was unable to attend as the POEA have a vital role to play in assisting seafarers and their families. Sadly, as Mr Paul explained, some manning agents do not treat the piracy survivors very well and so POEA needs to assist them.
On the second day, OWWA representative Mr Albert Valenciano gave a message thanking MPHRP for the services they offer to Filipino seafarers. Mr Valenciano told the seafarers that OWWA is also doing all they can to assist them especially in the after-care of a piracy attack ‚Äì their presence in the airports to welcome them and to give them and their families proper care.
An emotional testimony was given from one of the survivors of MV Eglantine. Mr Napoleon Flores, the Bosun of the ship, recalled their horrific experiences at the hands of the Somali pirates and also when the Iranian navy ‚Äòrescued‚Äô them. In the ‚Äòrescue‚Äô two of their Filipino colleagues died – one shot in the head and the other suffocated in the engine room where he hid. Mr Flores was joined by Gemma, the wife of another crew of MV Eglantine, who shared her ordeal during the captivity of her husband, especially the difficulty in explaining this to their three children. She spoke of the assistance that MPHRP had given her husband so that he was able this week to go back to work on another ship.
MPHRP Philippines Director, Mr Rancho Villavicencio, highlighted how he is working with the local manning agents, the government agencies, the seafarers and their families before, during and after a piracy attack. Contacts with the survivors and the families are very crucial in his work locally, he stressed. One of the most appreciated pieces of work that he had done was his visits to the families, giving them comfort and telling them that they are not alone in their struggle ‚Äì that MPHRP is with them. He encouraged any seafarer or family who has been affected to contact MPHRP on 02 7368760 or visit them at the Manila International Seafarers Center, Gate 4, Roberto Oca Street, Port Area, Manila.