You are here

Gov't urged to increase inbound flights, quarantine facilities for returning seafarers

Gov't urged to increase inbound flights, quarantine facilities for returning seafarers
July 16, 2021

The Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA) Maritime Group recently appealed to the government to take urgent action in addressing a global "crew change" dilemma caused by the limited inbound flights and the continuing lack of quarantine facilities in the country.

If unresolved, ALMA said it could lead to a loss of job opportunities for the more than 400,000 Filipino seafarers.

In a position paper sent to Senator Christopher "Bong" Go through

Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) Administrator Robert Empedrad, ALMA referring to the matter as an "urgent" need pointed out that while the maritime industry recovers from the pandemic-led disruption of its operations, it is now faced with another crew change dilemma caused by the limited inbound passenger capacity on Philippine airports.

"Because of this inbound flight passenger limit, international flights flying into the country could only offer limited seating", ALMA stressed adding that to keep up with their operational expenses, airlines either increase their fares or prioritize selling the most premium and expensive seats, or simply cancel the flights. Both increase the costs of crew changes.

The current cost of international flights to the Philippines ranges at around USD 1,500.00 and peaks at USD 4,500.00 per person. By the airfare alone, this figure is double and even exceeds triple the original cost of flying home Filipino crew before the pandemic.

ALMA pointed out, "The cost itself is fourfold the monthly wage of a regular seafarer. Due to this unaffordable high costs, ship owners and charter parties involved opt to cancel and postpone crew change until a more cost-efficient option becomes available".

Moreover, flight disruptions caused some serious delays to Off-signing.

The group cited the Maritime Labor Convention of 2006 (MLC, 2006) that stipulates that the maximum allowable tenure of a seafarer onboard per contract is limited to no longer than 11 months.

Beyond regulations, staying at sea beyond contract is also a safety risk for the crew and the vessel as crew suffering from fatigue is prone to commit errors and accidents that may lead to injuries, death, and pollution. Thus, all ships are heavily regulated and penalized to keep their crew within the allowed advisable length of service and all states especially the Philippines must ensure that the ships can change their crew when needed.

Making the situation worse, international flights to the Philippines can be randomly canceled leaving seafarers stranded abroad, waiting weeks or a month for Philippines flights to become available.

This further poses unsafe conditions to stranded Filipino seafarers as "with or without a flight, they must disembark."

Among the problems seafarers encounter in this situation are mental health issues, additional personal expenses, fatigue, and further exposure to risks of Covid-19.

ALMA added, " Filipino seafarers are faced with these issues that also meant additional consequential costs to the foreign shipowners who are the job providers at sea.

Iris Baguilat of ALMA Maritime Group and Robert Empedrad of MARINA bringing up the arising crew repatriation dilemma to Sen. Bong Go during the Day of the Seafarers. Looking on is TESDA Deputy Director-General John Bertiz. PHOTO COURTESY OF DÖHLE SEAFRONT

For stranded seafarers in foreign countries, shipowners and charter parties have to pay extra for prolonged hotel stays, agency fees, food, and even the regular and overtime wages of the crew as their employment contract, by regulation, only expire when they have returned to their point of hire (the Philippines)."

This makes hiring Filipinos costly and not competitive in the crewing market as principals begin looking to other seafaring nationalities that are not burdened by the additional expenses as we do right now.

The current inbound flight passenger limit imposed by the Philippine government disrupts crew change from efficiently running. The reason behind the limited number of flight passengers imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) is the lack of quarantine facilities for Filipinos arriving from overseas.

The group also decried the additional quarantine day that visibly affects the availability of facilities.

As per the IATF Resolution No. 114, Series of 2021, all arriving passengers shall undergo 14 days of quarantine upon arrival. The first 10 days of which shall be observed in a Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ)-approved quarantine facility.

Originally, seafarers swabbed upon arrival and quarantined for two to three days were released from quarantine facilities after receiving a negative RT-PCR result. Back then, the quarantine facilities were enough.

This was increased to a 7-day quarantine and this caused a decline in available rooms that was followed by the decrease of the passenger inbound capacity on Philippine airports.

The group furthered, lengthening the quarantine period was matched with reduced pax instead of an increased number of rooms available for quarantining.

Currently, the 10-day on-site quarantine requirement in place further takes room slots that could be allocated to other inbound overseas workers - making the problem significantly unresolved.

The group also called for additional quarantine rooms for returning seafarers.

In an earlier report, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) head, Hans Cacdac said hotels serving as quarantine facilities for seafarers and other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remain fully booked with over 10,500 returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) currently billeted in 183 hotels.

Cacdac disclosed that the number of ROFs accommodated in various hotels had risen significantly in recent days due to the prolonged quarantine period required by the IATF.
Calls to Urgent Action

The group pointed that instead of pushing the release of the budgeted funds to pay for additional quarantine rooms and transport, the government decided to reduce the number of Filipinos coming back to the Philippines invariably, risking the safety of our seafarers overseas who continue to work to keep the global supply chain running.

The high cost of inbound flights significantly increases the cost of hiring Filipino crew.

If the government maintains this strategy, ALMA warns, "our seafarers will lose their jobs onboard as principals continuously find more sustainable and cost-efficient means to operate (and man) their vessels – leaving the jobs of some 400,000 active Filipino seafarers at risk to be given out to other nationalities.