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Philippine manning sector: Riding the waves of change

PH manning sector: Riding the waves of change
Yashika F. Torib June 25, 2021

The Philippine maritime industry and its manning sector is finally taking control of its helm after a year of crashing waves of change brought about by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

"We are now improving our crew change procedures so much so that it is appreciated and adopted by other countries," said Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).

The administrator disclosed that with the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), more seaports are now opened nationwide for faster conduct of crew change both for Filipino and foreign seafarers.

"Many vessels have rerouted to the Philippines to conduct crew change. Our procedures allowed their seafarers to return home sooner," he said.

It can be recalled that the maritime industry has reeled from the effects of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) since March 2020. Training, assessments, examinations, and deployment were suspended to prevent the spread of the disease through mass gatherings and physical contact. While the industry immediately complied with all the precautionary measures set by the government, the manning sector has felt the brunt of the suspensions, which led to the slowdown in the deployment of seafarers.

With the adoption of the Green Lane Protocol for crew change and the eventual recognition of Filipino seafarers as "key workers", smooth and faster processing of their documentation, repatriation, and receipt of necessary assistance from the government were effected.

These landmark policies instigated further developments in the maritime industry such as the one-stop-shop services in seaports. "We have installed molecular laboratories and quarantine facilities among others on the piers. It is an inter-agency effort that is why repatriation procedures were speeded up," Empedrad said.

"There were challenges at first, birth pains of the new policies. But we have all managed to adapt and improve until these best practices are now practiced by other maritime nations," he added.

Another milestone was elevating the vaccine category of seafarers from B4 (Socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk) to A4 (Frontline personnel in essential sectors) until they were ultimately recognized as A1 (Workers in frontline services).

Accordingly, a massive nationwide vaccination in local government units (Lgus) will be held for seafarers today in time with International Seafarers' Day. Mariners will only have to show their Seaman's Record Book (Srb) and Seafarers Identity Document (Sid) to be able to receive a vaccine.

"Medical facilities of the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen's Union of the Philippines (Amosup) in Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao were identified as regular vaccination sites exclusive for seafarers," said Cristina Garcia, president of the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA).

Manning agencies in the country have likewise stepped up to the challenge of adapting to the "new normal" of employment, deployment, and repatriation.

"We have implemented new processes in recruitment and deployment through digital platforms. This addressed the concerns on the mobility of our staff and seafarers especially at the height of the pandemic," Garcia said.

Opportunities on the horizon

The slowdown of deployment of Filipino seafarers last year led principals to offer shipboard job opportunities to other nationalities such as Indians, Eastern Europeans, and Chinese.

With crew change developments in the Philippines and the more transmissible Delta Plus variant of Covid-19 in India, the manning sector sees opportunities for the Filipinos to regain their foothold in serving onboard international ships.

"Our seafarers are getting vaccinated and our crew change procedures are getting better. With India grappling with the new Covid variant, we can expect that job opportunities transferred to them since last year will be returned to Filipino seafarers," Empedrad said.

"We see that we are starting to regain our position in the deployment of Filipino seafarers. This will be driven by the forthcoming operation of the cruise industry where more than 100,000 are expected to man these vessels," Garcia added.

The opening of regional airports likewise presents better opportunities for seafarers.

According to Garcia, the forthcoming opening of Davao and Laoag International Airports will increase the passenger capacity and quarantine facilities.

"This will give us more opportunity to deploy our seafarers and send home those who are on board," she said.

In time with the International Seafarers' Day, the Marina administrator assured the industry of continued and stable services to all stakeholders.

"We will always be here to ensure that services are faster and better, that your welfare and livelihood are taken care of. My salute to all Filipino seafarers! Thank you for your sacrifices and we will strive to serve you better," he said.