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Moored mariners may spark crisis

Raffy Ayeng

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In the offing is a global humanitarian crisis due to the slew of seamen, 25 percent of whom are Filipinos, stranded at sea since the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic struck early this year, United Nation (UN) agencies warned yesterday.

International Labor Organization (ILO) led a call for governments to send immediate help to seafarers left stranded as a result of health restrictions to control the spread of the pathogen.

Based on global figures, seafarers currently number at about 1.5 million, 378,000 of them are Filipinos.

Several cruise liners are anchored near the shore in Manila now for months since many of their crew are Filipinos who are being processed by the government for disembarkation.

In a joint statement, the ILO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Maritime Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development called on member states to establish and implement measurable, time-bound plans to increase the rate of crew changes.

The ILO and other UN agencies have emphasized that governments should eliminate without delay all obstacles to crew changes.

Effect global-scale
“It is a humanitarian issue. It is a safety issue. It is also an economic issue which could slow or stop trade and hinder economic recovery. Governments must act now,” ILO director general Guy Ryder said.

The multilateral groups maintained that despite their efforts and those of shipowners and seafarers’ organizations, more than 300,000 individuals remain trapped on vessels while another 300,000 are waiting ashore to replace them.

Those who failed to embark on ships also face financial difficulties, according to the groups. Fishermen also face a similar problem, they added.

Restrictions on travel, embarkation and disembarkation in ports; quarantine measures; reductions in available flights and limits on the issuing of visas and passports have converged to create the crisis.

Huge sacrifices
“This is a problem that affects not only shipowners and seafarers but all aspects of governance and society,” Ryder said.

The joint call to action recognizes the sacrifices that seafarers have made to keep trade moving and therefore to ensure the continuity of global supply chains.

The statement also sets out a list of immediate actions that governments must take, including designating seafarers as key workers, increasing their access to commercial flights, implementing protocols for safe crew changes, refraining from authorizing the extension of seafarers’ employment agreements beyond the maximum 11 months, in accordance with the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 as amended, facilitating diversions of ships to ports where crew changes can take place and reviewing the necessity for national or local restrictions.

Crew change goes on
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) said crew change operations in the port of Capinpin in Bataan, Manila Bay and Subic Bay Freeport, Zambales continue with 142 seafarers served.

The 142 seafarers received their swab test results in 22 hours, all of which yielded negative results.

These crew change hubs were activated by the DoTr in August and started its operations this month.

Other ports with pending applications as a crew change hub include the Port of Batangas, Port of Cebu and Port of Davao.

Manning agencies’ chartering of flights and the government’s effort to repatriate both land-based and sea-based overseas Filipino workers also sped up the shifts.

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