PHL eyes lease of cruise ships for Middle East evacuation

The Philippines is looking at the possibility of chartering two cruise ships to help in the possible repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East, as tensions continue to escalate between the United States and Iran.

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said this option is now being looked into on the likelihood that many Filipino workers in the region might opt to go home.

“One of the suggestions that came out last night (Monday meeting with the Cabinet) was kung marami talaga ang gustong umuwi mag-lease, mag-hire tayo ng (if many Filipinos really want to go home, let us lease or hire) cruise ship(s). ‘Yung cruise ship na malalaki (The big cruises ships can accommodate about 3,500 to 4,000 people, so kung ‘yun lang naman sa Iran, sa Iraq (if that is only in Iran and Iraq), (of which there are around 7,000 Filipinos), dalawang cruise ship lang yun (that will be only two cruise ships), provided that these Filipinos would like to come home,” he said in an interview with reporters Tuesday.

Another option, being looked into is having these Filipinos evacuated in a peaceful area like Saudi Arabia or Oman and they will be eventually brought home from there.

“One of the problems that we are facing is if the Filipinos might not want to come home like what happened in Libya before when the Libyans found out that the Filipinos were trying to go home, dinoble nila yung sweldo kaya ayaw nang umalis (their salaries were doubled so they refused to leave),” Lorenzana said.

On Wednesday, the Philippine government raised crisis alert level 4 in Iraq which means mandatory evacuation.

This comes after the Pentagon confirmed that Iran has launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against US military and coalition forces in Iraq.

Since the mandatory evacuation was raised by the Philippines, Filipinos who will be leaving Iraq will undergo the normal procedure of getting their exit papers, according to the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad.

Tensions started to heat up between Washington and Tehran after top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq on January 3. PNA.GOV.PH