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Prolonged stay at sea of seafarers alarms Marina

Prolonged stay at sea of seafarers alarms Marina
Lorenz S. Marasigan June 18, 2020

THE Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) is seeking the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to allow the mass repatriation of Filipino seafarers, as prolonged stay at sea could pose safety occupational and operational risks.

Marina Administrator Robert A. Empedrad said he will formally submit a letter of request to the IATF on Friday, to prioritize the repatriation of seafarers who have been onboard their employers’ ships for over 10 months, or the internationally mandated period of work for seafarers.

“I am going to request if they can have our seafarers back to the Philippines, especially those who have exceeded 10 months onboard ships, which may take a toll on their emotional and physical health. It can also affect efficiency and performance, and it will have an impact on safety,” he said.

Empedrad echoed the sentiments of International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary General Kitack Lim, who was quoted in a Reuters report as saying that the situation of stranded seafarers now represents a “humanitarian crisis.”

“Governments must allow shipping to continue moving by getting seafarers to their homes, and to their ships to work,” Lim was quoted as saying.

Empedrad said crew change initiatives is a priority for Marina, citing reports that some seafarers have already committed suicide due to psychological issues.

Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., in announcing with sadness the death—by apparent suicide—of a 28-year-old mariner found dead in her cabin, deplored the off-and-on clearances given to repatriation missions, deeply frustrating the stranded OFWs and the diplomatic posts at the frontlines of such difficult, complicated operations.

Empedrad said on Wednesday, “Safety is definitely in play into the equation. We have to allow our seafarers to go home, and have them replaced with new crew. This is a safety issue.”

The Marina chief could not readily provide the number of Filipino seafarers who need to be repatriated—either because they have exceeded the maximum number of months mariners should stay at sea, their contracts have expired, or they have lost their jobs after the Covid-19 pandemic upended the multibillion-dollar cruise ship industry.

There are about 500,000 Filipino seafarers across the globe— 400,000 internationally, 100,000 locally.