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Seafaring at the height of Covid-19

Seafaring at the height of Covid-19
Yashika F. Torib June 25, 2021

What is it like to be a seafarer during a pandemic?

Unbeknownst to some, seafarers were among the economic front liners of the world, ensuring that logistics, commodities, and medicines reach countries even as sea and airports were shut down by governments to prevent the spread of the disease.

Merchant mariners stood at the center of all the changes brought about by Covid-19, seeing first-hand the "new normal" of employment, deployment, repatriation, and elevated health protocols at sea and on land.

The Manila Times interviewed a couple of Filipino seafarers to share their experiences and struggles of being at sea and finding a shipboard job at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For Second Engineer Froilan Vallano, the changes were drastically significant. Where seafarers used to report to the office for Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (Pdos), they now have to sit in front of computers to attend virtual meetings. Office visits are now limited to a simple signing of contracts.

"The mental toll of waiting for our medical tests is also different now. We are used to having challenges with our medical exams due to lifestyle illnesses, but the level of fear caused by Covid-19 is a different matter altogether. There is a nagging at the back of our minds that we could test positive from the virus," he said.

"There is also a provision that says we will not get paid while we are in quarantine and have been tested positive for Covid," Vallano added. He is currently on board a vessel in Poland.

Meanwhile, master mariner Rolando Ramos has experienced multiple swab tests before joining a vessel.

"Before my deployment last November, I had to undergo a swab test followed by a 14-day quarantine here in the Philippines. Upon arrival at our joining port overseas, I had to undergo another swab test and an extra seven-day quarantine," he said.

Ramos opined that while these procedures are proven effective, the Iatf could also affect a more practical solution for employers and seafarers such as shortened number of days in quarantine facilities due to depleting funds.

Both of the seafarers agreed that government representatives assisting the OFWs were accommodating and pleasant.

"All personnel assigned in the airport are highly trained. The Philippine Coast Guard that we have encountered there is very forthcoming and helpful to us OFWs. It is also worth noting that in our point of destinations, OFWs receive the same, good treatment," Vallano shared.

"It is unfortunate that some countries see us as mere 'carriers'. Some ports would require us to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). This is very difficult for seafarers as it can sometimes impede our movement, thus, may cause accidents. At the end of the day, we would just reflect that this is better than having no work at all."

Ramos furthered that operations on ships are now different.

"Meetings are now done in open spaces with appropriate distances between the crew. While at the port, authorities, surveyors, and terminal representatives were met outside the superstructure because visitors are mostly not allowed onboard. Shore leaves were also suspended," he explained.

Ramos observed that the onset of Covid-19 last year hampered the employment of seafarers because recruitment was limited, training has stopped, and other ancillary services were closed down.

"It was only until everyone adapted to digital processes that we started moving forward. Before that, a lot of instructors lost their jobs, and seafarers were stranded either onboard the ships or in Manila," he said.