[The following is a speech delivered by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario of on the occasion of the 3rd High Level Public-Private Counter-Piracy Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 11-12, 2013]
Before I begin, I would like to thank the Government of the United Arab Emirates for their hospitality and their dedication in tackling this issue of maritime piracy. As this is the third conference of its kind, I am pleased to see how awareness of our concerns is growing, and that the international community has taken many steps towards the eradication of maritime piracy.
The Federal Government of Somalia also deserves to be congratulated, as it has accepted assistance from the international community and has been successful in reducing the incidences of piracy in the high-risk area emanating from its coast.
Peace and development in Somalia is ultimately the long-term solution to ending piracy, and we hope that the successes of Somalia be sustained as we look forward to a future where piracy would no longer be a major concern.
Maritime piracy is a serious issue for the Philippines being the world’s largest supplier of seafarers since 1987 and as a flag-state registry for ocean-going vessels. The Philippines is the vessel-manning capital of the world, supplying one-fourth of the total seafarers, so that there is a high probability that a Filipino seafarer is victimized during a piracy incident.
Since 2006, about 826 Filipinos had been held for ransom by Somali pirates. With the decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia, only 5 Filipino seafarers are currently held in captivity.
There are 118 Philippine-registered ocean-going ships, 90 per cent of which pass through the high-risk area near the Somali coast.
The Philippine Government, through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, has required that all seafarers undertake piracy awareness seminars before their deployment.
MARINA, as the flag-state administration for Philippine-flagged vessels, has come out with rules regarding the employment of privately contracted armed service personnel to help guard Philippine ships in the high-risk zone.
The Philippines has also contributed the services of a Naval Liaison Officer for the Combined Maritime Forces stationed in Bahrain, which has a mission to patrol the high-risk area. At present the Philippines has a bilateral counter-piracy training agreement with the United States for seafarers, which has been expanded to include counter-piracy training for ASEAN and East Asian seafarers. The East Asia Seafarers Training (EAST) is tentatively scheduled for September 2013 in Manila.
I would also like to express the Philippines’ continued support for international efforts aimed at preventing and suppressing piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. The Combined Maritime Forces – EUNAVFOR, NATO, AMISOM, and other international forces – have all contributed to a better security environment that has reduced incidences of piracy to an all-time low. Along with this, the Philippines hopes for the successful implementation of the Djibouti Code of Conduct on the Suppression of Piracy in Somalia.
Even with all the efforts of the international community thus far, we cannot afford to be complacent. Complacency with piracy comes at a high cost. After all, international shipping lanes are the lifeline of global trade, and as previously stated, the World Bank estimates the economic impact of piracy at US$18 billion a year.
However, ships and goods are not the only assets of value at risk to piracy. Another valuable asset that traverses the seas is the seafarers. Even as international shipping is increasingly becoming automated, there is very much a human component in its operations. The navigation, maintenance, and efficiency of a ship have always been in human hands, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
There are people in these ships. These people have hopes and dreams. They have families. Most importantly, they have rights. And when they become victims of piracy, all these are jeopardized.
The Philippines, as a member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Council, has implemented a variety of best practices in order to mitigate the impact of piracy on its direct victims, the seafarers. As mentioned earlier, we have authorized Philippine-flagged ships to privately contract armed service personnel, giving them the option to literally combat piracy. This, of course, is an extreme option, and we have emphasized the risks of exercising this option.
Every Filipino seafarer is given a comprehensive orientation on what to do in the event of a pirate attack. We also take great care in ensuring that families of victims get all the information and counseling that they need. Once seafarers are rescued, we conduct debriefing sessions to understand more about the pirates and their methods.
We also assist them in getting their lives back together through post-traumatic counseling and other services.
But despite these efforts, we can only be as effective in our ability to coordinate with ship owners. We therefore urge ship owners to be more open to sharing information on the status of captive seafarers. A little information will go a long way in helping families of victims maintain their resolve and in keeping their hopes alive. We have yet to address cases wherein a ship owner abandons the ship, leaving its crew to an uncertain fate. We call on ship owners to refrain from resorting to this course of action, as this also constitutes the abandonment of lives as it is an abandonment of property.
We still have a long way to go in our campaign against piracy. There is still much to be done, and the Philippine Government shall continue to engage and coordinate with the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations, relevant government institutions, ad-hoc groups such as the Contact Group on Piracy in the Coast of Somalia, and shipping and manning agencies in the Philippines to explore options and determine the best course of action to protect seafarers, ships, and address the problem of piracy worldwide.
In closing, I wish to again congratulate the Government of the United Arab Emirates for organizing this conference which has provided us a forum to exchange views on this important issue that is besetting the global maritime industry. I hope that this conference will help guide us in our search for more effective solutions to eradicate piracy in the high seas. Thank you.