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MANILA, Philippines - Mother's Day may yet be a week away, but it is already heavily on the mind and heart of Aurora Gonzales, mother of a Filipino seafarer who has been a hostage of Somali pirates for the last two years.
Her 31-year old son, Gerald Gonzales, has been in captivity for the last two years after Somali pirates seized Iceberg 1, a cargo shipping vessel owned by a Dubai-based company, Azal Shipping & Cargo.
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-profit organization that assists distressed overseas Filipino workers, urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to seek the help of the international community in securing the safe release of Filipino seafarer Gerald Gonzales from Somalian pirates.
Gerald's mother, Aurora Gonzales, flew to Manila from Jaro, Iloilo City to seek the help of the BFO Center in following up on her son’s case. The Center has requested for a meeting between the seafarer’s mother and local manning agency to be held tomorrow morning at the DFA Building.
"We urge the Department of Foreign Affairs to go the extra mile in requesting for international assistance because the shipping company concerned has not been forthcoming with answers as to extraordinary delay in the release of Gerald Gonzales," the Ople Center said.
The seafarer's mother recounted that she received a phone call from Gerald at 2 a.m. on March 29, 2010. "Na-hijack kami (Our ship has been hijacked)," he said. Since then, the OFW's family has been relying on updates from the local manning agency, Inter-World Shipping Corporation. The manning agency, in turn, has been sending e-mails to the operations manager of Azal Shipping & Cargo in Dubai to request for information.
However, the seafarer’s family is no longer content with the same terse replies provided by the shipping company. "Gerald's mother showed us an e-mail thread filled with terse assurances from Azal Shipping & Cargo that the crew members are still onboard the vessel and are 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," the Ople Center said in a report.
Gerald left the Philippines as an engine cadet on April 7, 2009. It was his first contract as aseafarer. The family has not received any allotment from the Dubai-based shipping company since the seafarer was held captive. Gerald is the only Filipino on board Iceberg 1. Other Filipino crewmembers went home prior to the hostage-taking incident since their contracts have ended.