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Ambassador Carlos Salinas: Quarantine and the seafarer

Quarantine and the seafarer
Ambassador Carlos Salinas March 25, 2020

The concept of quarantine has always been associated with shipping. The practice began in the 14th century to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quarantagiorni, meaning 40 days.

The practice continued through the years, as protection against yellow fever, cholera, severe acute respiratory syndrome, viral hemorrhagic fevers and other communicable diseases.

Today, we are again experiencing quarantine and it involves not just one or two ships, but many countries worldwide. As of this writing, the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) has infected over 340,000 people globally, more than 14,000 of whom have not survived and over 99,000 have recovered. In an effort to contain the spread, drastic quarantine regulations have been issued by national and local government entities worldwide.

he maritime industry has been quick to respond. Several international maritime events have been either cancelled or postponed, such as the 27th Annual International Maritime Hall of Fame Dinner, conferences planned by Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association, and others.

For his part, International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Kitack Lim issued a statement stressing the need to maintain commerce by sea and protect seafarers’ welfare in the face of the Covid-19 shut down. “The spread of the coronavirus has placed the entire world in an unprecedented situation,” he said. “To slow the spread of the disease and mitigate its impacts, travel is being curtailed and borders are being closed. Transport hubs are being affected. Ports are being closed and ships denied entry.”

He added that the times call for “the ability for shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and foodstuffs…It is, therefore, crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted. At the same time, the safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment must also remain paramount.”

The secretary-general urged all IMO member-states to remember this when making their policy decisions with regard to Covid-19. While defeating the virus must take precedence, global trade in a safe, secure and environment-friendly manner must continue unabated.
Lim also underscored the importance of safeguarding the health and welfare of the seafarers, who continue to ensure the goods we need are delivered safely without harming the environment. They are far from home and family, and must be given all the support they need for their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) administrator, gave assurance that measures are being taken in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak without hampering the delivery of services. He also assured that the protection and safety of Filipino seafarers remain an overriding consideration. He announced new stringent measures to protect seafarers, Philippine-flagged ships and the agency’s workforce from the virulent disease.

The measures include enhanced hygiene of seafarers, doubling of precautionary measures during pre-boarding as well as on board, and promoting the agency’s online application portal for processing seafarers and shipping applications. All these are being undertaken to protect Filipino seafarers, whose competitive advantage as the primary choice in the seafaring industry must be maintained.

What this unsettling experience is beginning to teach us is the first law of ecology: everything is connected to everything else. What was an initial outbreak in one area has affected everyone in the planet, either directly or indirectly. Social distancing is an obligation. We know that some people need to go to work and we can only hope they are observing basic hygiene religiously for their own sake and their co-workers’. For those who may opt not to take the situation seriously, I invite them to heed the words of Hugh Edward Montgomery, English professor and the director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at the University College London: “If you……don’t mind if you get the flu, remember it’s not about you – it’s about everybody else.”

This virus has been giving us hard lessons. I hope when all this is over, we shall emerge from it better persons, more compassionate and appreciative of what we have.