Two Filipinos recovering from Libya air strike
MANILA, Philippines – Two Filipino seafarers are recuperating after their oil tanker suffered an air strike in Libya in an apparent case of mistaken identity.
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that the two Filipinos were admitted to a hospital in Libya to receive medical care for their shrapnel wounds. Twenty other Filipino sailors were on board the Greek-operated Araevo but were unhurt in the incident last Sunday, January 4.
DFA Spokesperson Charles Jose denied reports that 3 Filipino sailors were injured. The Philippine Embassy in Tripoli clarified that the third Filipino merely accompanied his wounded colleagues to the hospital.
Jose identified the two wounded as Second Engineer Ricardo Makiramdam of Antipolo, and seaman Leonel Huerto of Mindoro. The sailors want to return home soon, and the DFA is working on their repatriation.
“Mr Huerto sustained shrapnel injuries on his foot, and is taking antibiotics. He will undergo operation within the week. Mr Makiramdam underwent abdominal surgery to remove the shrapnel lodged in his intestines. The operation was successful and he will be taken out of the ICU soon. Doctors expect a full recovery,” Jose said in a press briefing on Wednesday, January 7.
The DFA did not take a position on the air strike, which also killed a Greek and a Romanian crewmember off the Libyan port of Derna.
Libya is mired in unrest and political chaos as factions have been battling to control the North African country since the ouster and death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Libya’s internationally recognized government admitted that its armed forces bombed the oil tanker, saying it warned the vessel not to enter the port. The government suspected the tanker of transporting Islamist militants to Derna after it refused to stop for checks on its cargo.
Yet the state-run National Oil Corporation (NOC) said it informed all parties of the arrival of the tanker, which it contracted to bring fuel for local power plants. ABC News reports that both factions appointed officials to run the NOC, leading to confusion over who controls which assets.
The United States and Greece condemned the air strike, with Athens branding it an “unprovoked and cowardly” attack.
“We are not familiar with the circumstances [of the air strike],” Jose said. “At this point, the priority is the Filipino seafarers, their well-being. Our priority is get them back on their feet as soon as possible.”
Jose added that the Philippine Embassy in Athens is in touch with the Hellenic Ministry of Mercantile Marine for updates.
The 20 other Filipino seafarers are currently in the port of the Libyan eastern city of Tobruk, where the internationally recognized government and elected parliament are based.
Repatriation in last week of January
After the air strike, the DFA again urged Filipinos working in Libya to leave the strife-torn nation.
Jose said the DFA’s repatriation program is ongoing, and there is a scheduled repatriation for the last week of January.
“[So far], 65 overseas Filipino workers registered to be repatriated,” Jose said.
The DFA said it already brought home 4,029 Filipinos from Libya but many remain. Jose has said that Filipinos who refuse to leave Libya are worried about getting jobs at home.
Last year, the DFA said there were 13,000 Filipinos, comprising around 0.59% of the 2.2 million Filipinos working abroad, largely due to a lack of high-paying job opportunities in the Philippines. (READ: Filipinos in Libya: We can survive war, not joblessness)
Filipinos in Libya account for 60% of Tripoli’s hospital staff.
With the air strike, Jose was asked whether the Philippines was inclined to prohibit Filipino sailors from boarding ships bound for Libya.
“Implementation-wise, there could be some difficulty. It’s the manning agency that charts the [ship routes], and we don’t know where [the sailors] are going,” the foreign affairs spokesman responded.
Lone Filipino survivor back from Vietnam
The air strike in Libya also marked the 4th tragedy to hit Filipino sailors in less than two months.
In the past week alone, two cargo ships carrying Filipino seafarers sank off southern Vietnam, and Scotland. A total of 17 Filipino sailors are still missing from these two mishaps while two crewmen were killed.
The lone survivor in the Vietnam incident, Filipino chief cook Angelito Rojas, returned to the Philippines on Wednesday but requested privacy, Jose said.
In December, a South Korean trawler also sank off Russia’s far east coast, killing 5 Filipinos while 5 others remain missing.
Jose said that the 3 Filipinos who survived the incident were already repatriated last month.
The lucrative work in the global maritime industry lures many Filipinos, who comprise 400,000 or a quarter of the world’s 1.5 million officers and crews. – Rappler.com