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Philippines asks for ship escorts to fight pirates and protect its seafarers

Philippines asks for ship escorts to fight pirates and protect its seafarers

Manila: The Philippines, the largest single provider of the world's seafarers, urged Pacific Rim transportation ministers Tuesday to aid its ships and sailors through pirate-infested Somali waters amid a slump in global trade.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza appealed to officials from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation addressing the menace of piracy to the world's merchant ships to provide armed escorts to Philippine ships, said Transportation Undersecretary Maria Elena Bautista.

The Philippines supplies about 30 percent of the world's 1.2 million merchant sailors, and the Foreign Affairs Department says 81 Filipino seafarers are among Somali pirates' prisoners.

A strengthened international naval force has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden since the beginning of 2009 following a surge in hijackings in the area last year.

The Philippines is in "Category E," which Bautista said is the lowest priority in receiving naval escorts near Somali waters.

"The appeal of Secretary Mendoza is for the Philippines to be given additional assistance because we have a lot of Filipinos serving in their vessels," she added.

She thanked China, Germany and the U.S. for aiding the Philippine tanker M/T Stolt Strength and its 23 Filipino crewmen after Somali pirates released them on April 21. A Chinese frigate escorting the tanker out of Somali waters deployed helicopters Monday to drive away pirates again lurking close to the ship as it sailed toward Oman's territorial waters, Bautista said. [29/04/09]