Philippines’s largest seafarers’ union calls for government protection after Houthi attacks in Red Sea

The Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP) called on the government for protection after three attacks of commercial vessels carrying Filipino seafarers at the Red Sea and Gulf of Oman. The attacks involved the car carrier M/V Galaxy Leader, oil tanker M/V St. Nikolas, and the bulk carrier M/V True Confidence. The Galaxy Leader and True Confidence were attacked in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels in support of Hamas terrorists who invaded Israel last October, while the St. Nikolas was seized by Iran in the Gulf of Oman. 

The attacks by the Houthis have so far resulted in the deaths of three seafarers, including two Filipinos on True Confidence, and left others severely wounded. The Iran-backed Houthis have been targeting civilian vessels in the Red Sea. 

AMOSUP, Philippines’ largest seafarers’ union and a local affiliate of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), emphasized the need to protect the rights and welfare of Filipino seafarers facing the challenges of the high seas. 

“We express our deepest sympathies to the bereaved families and loved ones of the innocent victims. We are calling on all maritime stakeholders, UN (United Nations)-attached agencies, and government authorities to work collaboratively in taking necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of our seafarers working onboard ships in the warlike and high-risk areas of international waters,” AMOSUP said in a statement.  

This call to action followed the missile attack on True Confidence, a Barbados-flagged and Liberian-owned bulk carrier, resulting in the deaths of three seafarers and severe injuries to others on March 6. Two of the dead were Filipino nationals. The Philippine government repatriated the surviving Filipino crew members and provided them assistance upon their return to Manila on March 12. 

As the principal trade union representing Filipino seafarers globally, AMOSUP, in collaboration with the ITF, has labeled the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden areas unsafe for seafarers due to escalating conflicts in the region. 

“The ITF earlier said the recent attack tragically confirmed its consistent warnings to the international community and the maritime industry about the risks faced by seafarers in the area, and that it serves as ‘the starkest reminder of the urgent need for collective action to safeguard the lives of those who keep the global economy afloat,’” AMOSUP emphasized.  

The union agreed with the ITF in calling on shipowners and employers to avoid the area and to divert their vessels, regardless of the flag state, around the Cape of Good Hope until safe transit through the Red Sea can be guaranteed. 

Filipino lawmakers rally for seafarers’ protection  

The House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs chairperson and Kabayan Party-list Rep. Ron Salo is taking proactive steps to safeguard Filipino seafarers from life-threatening attacks. He, along with several other lawmakers, introduced House Resolution (HR) No.1651, urging immediate actions to protect seafarers amidst ongoing assaults on commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. 

The resolution mirrored calls from the ITF and AMOSUP, specifically urging shipowners to divert vessels from the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden until seafarers’ safety is ensured. 

“We stand in solidarity with our seafarers and their families in the face of these grave threats,” Salo said.  

Recognizing the challenges faced by shipowners in ensuring vessel and crew protection, the resolution urged maritime stakeholders, relevant UN bodies, and government agencies to swiftly implement effective safety measures. It also called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) to engage with international entities to adopt measures guaranteeing the safety of Filipino seafarers. 

Tragedy strikes at sea 

In addition to the recent missile attack on the True Confidence vessel in early March, another harrowing event unfolded on November 19 of the previous year, involving 17 Filipino crew members from the cargo ship Galaxy Leader who were taken hostage by Houthi rebels. While the 13 Filipino survivors of the True Confidence missile attack have safely returned to the Philippines, the hostages taken from the Galaxy Leader are still held in captivity. 

Meanwhile, the Philippines welcomed the designation of the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden as war-like areas on March 26. The DMW lauded this decision, emphasizing the need for enhanced measures to safeguard Filipino seafarers further. 

The War-like Operations Area Committee (WOAC) of the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) unanimously designated the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden as “war-like,” aiming to discourage passage through these areas until seafarers’ safety is guaranteed. 

“This critical decision recognizes the grave dangers faced by our Filipino seafarers and other nationalities traversing these high-risk sea lanes,” DMW officer-in-charge Hans Leo Cacdac said in a news release. 

This designation compels shipping entities to implement stricter safety measures, including route diversions, security training for seafarers, vessel upgrades, and deployment of armed personnel. It also emphasizes a seafarer’s right to refuse to sail when navigating through these hazardous zones. 

Photo credit: AMOSUP. AMOSUP President Dr. Conrado Oca.

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