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Norway honors PH seafarers for role in difficult Syria mission

MANILA, Philippines – A group of Filipino seafarers made history by being among the first civilian recipients of the Operational Medal of the Norwegian Armed Forces since World War II, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Manila said on Friday, September 18.

Fifteen Filipino seafarers, some represented by family members, were conferred the award in a ceremony held at the residence of Norwegian Ambassador Erik Førner on Thursday, September 17, the embassy said in a statement.

The award recognizes the role of the Philippine crew of the M/V Taiko, who assisted the Norwegian government and the United Nations in removing chemical weapons from Syria from December 2013 to July 2014.

In his remarks, the Norwegian envoy described the official recognition of  second batch of awardees as "rare and historic" as the M/V Taiko crew members were the first civilians to be awarded the medal since the last world war.

The other crew members were honored in Bergen, Norway, in June.

Førner commended the courage of the Filipino seafarers: "You made a difference. You proved that the international community can join forces and ensure that words are followed by action. And you demonstrated once again that excellence and professionalism are trademarks of the Filipino seafarer."

He also emphasized the contribution of the  Filipino crew members to international peace and security.

"M/V Taiko’s mission in Syria was yet another example of the excellent relationship and solid ties between the Philippines and Norway. The cooperation on board Taiko is a manifestation of the friendship between our two countries,"  Førner said in his speech.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario congratulated the Filipino seafarers for carrying out the mission under difficult circumstances.

"It underscores the important contribution to the efforts of Norway and the international community in striving for a better future for Syria and the Middle East Region," Del Rosario said.

'Difficult mission'

The mission was prompted by the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2118 on September 27, 2013, which called for the assistance of the international community in the removal, transportation and destruction of chemical weapons in Syria.

Norway decided to help, in cooperation with Denmark, to transport the weapons on behalf of the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Norway sent a civilian cargo ship of Wilhelmsen ASA to conduct the mission which lasted for 7 months, or from December 2013 to July 2014. It was escorted by two ships from the Norwegian Navy.

Together with representatives from the Norwegian Armed Forces, a total of 43 civilian seafarers served on board M/V Taiko during the mission – 21 from the Philippines, 15 from Norway, 4 from India, two from Poland, and one from Croatia.

During the awarding ceremony in Manila, the M/V Taiko military head of operation lauded the competence of the Filipino seafarers.

"If I ever get a task like this again, I know where to look for my crew," said Commander Senior Grade John Gunnar Refsnes.

Wilhelmsen Vice President Espen Sending noted the long-standing partnership between the Philippines and Norway in the maritime sector, and Wilhelmsen’s long history in the Philippines.

Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Max Mejia and representatives from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency were also present during the ceremony. – Rappler.com