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Ma hopes longest held hostage-son freed soon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Monday, May 07, 2012
By Jerome Aning

With Mother’s Day less than a week away, Aurora Gonzales is counting on being reunited by then with her seafarer-son, the longest held Filipino hostage of Somali pirates.

Gonzales’ son Gerald, 31, has been in pirate hands for more than two years now since his ship, the MV Iceberg 1, a Panamanian-registered roll-on roll-off cargo vessel, was seized off Aden, Yemen, on March 29, 2010. The ship is owned by a Dubai-based company, Azal Shipping and Cargo.

The Iceberg 1 is the longest held ship by Somali pirates, according to the European Naval Task Force, which leads an international antipiracy drive in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean where the pirates operate.

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that assists overseas Filipino workers in distress, has urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to seek help from the international community to get Gonzales free.
Aurora Gonzales flew to Manila from Iloilo City to seek help from the Ople Center in following up her son’s case at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The center has requested for a meeting between the seafarer’s mother and his local manning agency this morning at the DFA.

Go the extra mile
“We urge the DFA to go the extra mile in requesting for international assistance because the shipping company concerned has not been forthcoming with answers as to the extraordinary delay in the release of Gerald Gonzales,” center president Susan Ople said in a statement.

The mother recounted how she received a phone call from Gerald at 2 a.m. on that fateful day. “Na-hijack kami [We’ve been hijacked],” her son told her.

Since then, the family has been relying on updates from the local manning agency, Inter-World Shipping Corp., which in turn has been sending e-mails to the operations manager of Azal asking for information.

Family not pleased

But the family was not happy with the terse replies of the shipping company, Ople said.

“Gerald’s mother showed us an e-mail thread filled with terse assurances from Azal that the crew members were still on the vessel and were fine. If they are fine, then what’s holding up the negotiations? Two years is a long time to be in the hands of Somali pirates,” Ople said.

Gerald left the Philippines as an engine cadet on April 7, 2009. It was his first contract as a seafarer. His family has complained about not receiving any emoluments from Azal since his captivity.

Gerald is the only Filipino on the Iceberg 1. Fellow Filipino crew members had left the ship before the hijacking. Other captive crew members are eight Yemenis, six Indians, four Ghanaians, two Sudanese and two Pakistanis.

Some sailors died

In October 2010, a Yemeni crewman said to be suffering from psychological problems reportedly committed suicide by jumping off the ship although Azal claimed the seaman died from malnutrition.

According to sailors from another hijacked ship, a Ghanaian crew member died in March or June 2011 after he was caught in the crossfire between quarreling pirates.

The DFA said there were 47 Filipinos still being held hostage by pirates on four vessels as of February this year.


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