Navy enlists tuna fishermen in fight vs sea piracy

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/31 January) — The Philippine Navy has enlisted the help of fishermen, tapping them as reserve forces, to go after pirates in the high seas preying on tuna fishing expeditions, officials said.

On Sunday, the Navy reservists, armed with high-powered firearms, showcased their fighting skills in an amphibious raid demonstration program at the nearby coastal town of Maasim in Sarangani province.

Commodore Philip L. Cacayan, Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao command chief, said that many of the reserved personnel they tapped work in the tuna fishing industry, apparently because of their familiarity with the sea.

“These trained reserve forces will be a big help to fight sea piracy,” Cacayan noted, adding they will also be a big help to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in search and rescue operations during disasters and other civil-military affairs activities.

Marfenio Y. Tan, president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc., expressed support to the moves enlisting fisherfolk as naval reserve forces.

“In case there are troubles in the high seas, these reserve forces can immediately be dispatched,” he said.

Sea piracy victimizing small-scale fishermen has been a perennial problem in Sarangani Bay and adjacent Philippine waters, prompting officials last year to organize a joint seaborne defense system which would allow the arming of fisherfolk.

Gov. Miguel Rene A. Dominguez earlier issued an order to form the maritime force owing to the renewed threat posed by “ambak pare,” literally meaning “jump, buddy”, an order for the victims to abandon the fishing boats before the pirates would seize the vessels.

“The defense force will be composed of volunteer fishermen…our fishermen agreed not to be cowed but will fight back in case of being attacked,” the governor has said.

Dominguez said those fishermen with guns who want to help in the drive against sea piracy must seek the necessary permits to avoid trouble with the law, at the same time noting the security threat posed by the heavily armed sea pirates.

Last year, four fishermen went missing and their boat was found drifting in the high seas off Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat with bloodstains and pieces of body tissues scattered on the fishing boat deck.

Engines of the three other smaller boats locally known as “pakura” and belongings were also missing, records of the Kiamba town police station in Sarangani showed.

Local police believed the attackers belong to an organized crime group, noting their capability in terms of logistics and their determination to kill fishing boat crews.

Ambak pare was reportedly rampant in the early 1970s across the 215,950-hectare Sarangani Bay, when the local tuna industry was still unheard of.

One of its now prominent victims was Mr. Tan, a fishing tycoon who owns San Andres Fishing Industries Inc. He reportedly survived the ordeal by drifting eight hours in the sea until help came. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)