Repatriation required for 80,000 Filipino seafarers stranded in ships
REPATRIATION is long overdue for about 80,000 Filipino seafarers who are stranded in ships worldwide with their work contracts expired and unable to get home
REPATRIATION is long overdue for about 80,000 Filipino seafarers who are stranded in ships worldwide with their work contracts expired and unable to get home.
Covid-19 pandemic has shut down national borders and flights to and from the Philippines are severely limited. They cannot just disembark at any port, lest they get grounded or face arrest in a strange land.
An equal number of replacements for the lapsed seamen can't get to work either. Flights are rare too to international port cities where they can board ship. Job placements face cancellation due to inability to report on time.
'Inter-agency effort is needed,' says Arben Santos, experienced with 50 years in international shipping. 'To get our seamen home and to send off fresh ones, our labour, transport and health officials must coordinate actions.' Signed-out seafarers must be identified and located, their flights home assured, and Covid-19 testing and quarantining streamlined. Same with those about to sign in as replacements.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) strictly enforces the maximum nine months sea time. Beyond that performance drops and safety issues arise from overwork, global studies show. So the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration forbids longer seafarer contracts.
Ship owners must comply lest be penalised, said Mr Santos, CEO of Southwest Maritime Co.
In the Philippines, Mr Santos proposes reopening of international airports. About 4,000-6,000 seafarers a day need to land home or fly out. Flights need resumption from and to ports that allow crew change in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and the United States. He also asks for priority of seafarers in Covid-19 testing and result processing within 24 hours. The usual three to five days delay could cost them their jobs or missed flights.
Mr Santos also suggests that the Philippines allow crew changes 'Outside Port Limits' of Manila. International vessels plying the Philippines can discharge and accept crew in or near other ports (depending on depth) with quarantine facilities.