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Heart ailments and seafarer’s diet: Seafarers are not free to choose their diet as they were served mostly high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber food aboard the vessel

Heart ailments and seafarer’s diet

The heart ailments of seafarers can be triggered or aggravated by his working conditions aboard the vessel, including his diet.

“Taking responsibility for the health of all human souls on their ships also defines the shipowners’ sense of humanity and justice,“ thus declared the Supreme Court in the case of Oscar Paringit vs. Global Gateway Crewing Services, Inc. ( G.R. No. 217123, March 28, 2019).

The Court granted total permanent disability benefits to the seafarer as it attributed to his diet the diseases he suffered (congestive heart failure, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, and valvular heart disease) which it identified as work-related or aggravated illnesses.

In denying its liability for disability compensation for the illnesses, the employer argued that the seafarer failed to prove the causal connection between his heart diseases and work aboard the vessel as Chief Mate. They added that his medical condition was mostly a result of poor lifestyle choices and health habits and was not indicative of work-relatedness.

Under the POEA Standard Employment Contract, the heart illness is considered an occupational disease for which a seafarer may claim compensation if the following conditions are met: (a) when the heart disease was aggravated by reasons of the nature of the seafarer’s work, (b) the severity of the strain of the work may be sufficient and followed within 24 hours by clinical signs of cardiac insult, and (c) signs and symptoms of cardiac injury appeared during his work and the same persisted.

The seafarer was declared fit to work prior to embarkation even if he was known to be hypertensive.

He was required to prove that he complied with the “prescribed maintenance medications and doctor-recommended lifestyle changes” and the employer is required to “provide a workplace conducive for such compliance.”

The Supreme Court noted that even if the seafarer took medication to normalize his high blood pressure, the working conditions and mandatory diet aboard the vessel made it difficult and nearly impossible for him to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Seafarers are not free to choose their diet as they were served mostly high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber food aboard the vessel.

Ocean going vessels are in the high seas for a considerable length of time and provisions on board are usually frozen, preserved, smoked, salted and canned meats as these foods are not easily perishable while fresh fruits and vegetables cannot last long in the high seas.

With this kind of diet plus the stress of the job on board if only to keep the safety of the vessel, its crew and cargoes have their toll even upon a healthy person. The fats and chemicals in frozen and preserved meats congested his arteries.

A seafarer can be subjected to physical and mental stress and strain. One’s responsibilities cause heavy burdens on a seafarer’s shoulders all these years, and certainly may have contributed to the development of his illness. Besides, it is already recognized that any kind of work or labor produces stress and strain normally resulting in wear and tear of the human body
Seafarers have to brave storms, typhoons and high waves during the vessel’s journey plus the sudden change of climate and temperature as the vessel crossed territories.

The job obviously entails laborious manual tasks conducted in a moving ship which makes for increased work-related stress. All these factors may exacerbate a seafarer’s heart condition. Prolonged and continued exposure to the same could probably risk him to another attack
The Supreme Court stressed that there is very little that seafarers can do to better their working conditions upon boarding a ship.

It is the shipowners and their representatives who have better resources to ensure that their crew members are properly nourished, kept adequately fit, and are placed in a situation where they are not put at any risk greater than what is inherent in their jobs.

The Court pointed out that a crew properly nourished, adequately fit, and enjoying humane working conditions will redound to the benefit of the shipowners. No ship sails without a human crew.

Consequently, the crew’s quality of skills and state of health significantly determine the efficiency of the shipping business.

Companies definitely will no longer hire a seafarer with medical conditions, especially the high risk of having heart failure or stoke in the future. From the business point of view, re-employment will be risky since the harsh working environment might only aggravate his fragile condition and in the end expose the company to more serious insurance liabilities.