The Operational Medal of the Norwegian Armed Forces was conferred to 15 Filipino seafarers and their representatives on 17 September at a ceremony at the residence of Ambassador Erik Førner. The awarding took place in recognition of the act of the crew of M/V Taiko, 21 of which were Filipinos, in assisting the Norwegian Government and the United Nations in removing chemical weapons from Syria.
Ambassador Førner described the event as rare and historic. It is the first time that civilians are awarded the medal since the Second World War. Ambassador Førner emphasized the contribution of the 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,’ said Ambassador Førner in his speech to the awardees.
The mission was carried out from December 2013 to July 2014 after it was discovered that chemical weapons had been used in an attack in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution that called for the assistance of the international community in the removal, transportation and destruction of the weapons. The Norwegian government, in cooperation with the shipping company Wilhelmsen, responded to the call and provided the civilian cargo ship M/V Taiko and two ships from the Norwegian Navy to act as escort vessels. The mission took place in coordination with the UN, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and a handful of other states.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, in his speech, congratulated the Filipino seafarers for a job well done. He said that what they have shown in the most difficult situation is truly worth emulating. ‘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.’
Ambassador Førner also commended the courage and bravery 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’ said Ambassador Førner.
Believing in the competence of the Filipino seafarers during the difficult mission to Syria, military head of the operation on board M/V Taiko Commander Senior Grade John Gunnar Refsnes said, ‘If I ever get a task like this again, I know where to look for my crew.’
Wilhelmsen Vice President Espen Sending noted the longstanding and solid tradition between the Philippines and Norway in the maritime sector and Wilhelmsen’s long history in the country. He thanked the maritime authorities and the government agencies for the good partnership through the years.
MARINA Administrator Max Mejia and representatives from the Philippine Armed Forces and the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency were also present during the ceremony.
An earlier ceremony was held in Bergen, Norway in June this year for the awarding of the first group of seafarers.