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PH crew change woes still unresolved

PH crew change woes still unresolved
Genivi Factao July 15, 2020

Manning agencies are still finding it difficult to effect “crew change” in the country, citing the apparent lack of coordination between implementing agencies and the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).

This, despite the “green lane” circular that was supposed to alleviate the crew change crisis onboard international merchant vessels that has 200,000 seafarers stranded due to the travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

The circular took effect last July 2 and was signed and approved by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Transportation (DoTr), Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Justice and Department of Health-Bureau of Quarantine.

It was created in answer to the International Maritime Organization’s appeal to its member states to accord speedy and safe travel to seafarers including the swift crew change protocols during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was likewise supported by the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Bureau of Quarantine, Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

Also, early this week, the Philippines was among the 13 countries to agree and sign for an international measure to open up foreign borders for seafarers and expedite repatriation efforts.

In major ports across the country, however, seafarers bound for their shipboard deployment were sent back as authorities were quick on pointing fingers as to who actually has jurisdiction over an area or who issues the travel authority.

One of the affected local employers reported how their crew who were supposed to join in Davao were sent back, along with other seafarers, by port authorities that stated only the Port of Manila was authorized to allow crew change.

Accordingly, Marina immediately coordinated with PPA as it was the agency that released the order.

“As of this date, the Port of Manila is the only port authorized by the IATF to allow disembarkation of overseas Filipino seafarers who have undergone RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) swab tests with negative results. No other port has been authorized,” PPA General Manager Jay Daniel Santiago said.

“The IATF-approved crew change protocol is still being routed for signature. Everyone is therefore notified that other than the Port of Manila, no crew disembarkation/embarkation of international vessels of whatever nationality is to be allowed,” Santiago said.

“This is absolutely ridiculous in all its form and substance! Why even come out with Green Lane Joint Circular?” one manning official, who declined to be named, remarked.

“Have they considered the safety and density of vessels in the area? How about the commercial impact on delays and dangers in this location? Has there been a technical person that provides guidance on safety and security?” he asked in frustration.

Private sector, Marina position

Danny David, president of Relinic International Trading Corp., said the PPA advisory dated July 8, 2020, allowing only the Port of Manila for the green lane is not really helping in facilitating speedy and safe travel of seafarers.

“If any cargo or tanker ship will come to the Philippines with cargo not intended for the Port of Manila, lets say Subic, Bataan or in the Visayas and Mindanao, and they have Filipino crew members who would like to go home after following the Covid-19 protocols, they cannot sign off,” he said.

“You’re here in your country, yet you cannot go home and you will again follow all the protocols, and that’s an additional expense for the manning company,” David added.

He cited that it happened in the Port of Bacolod, when seafarers were not allowed to disembark. “If any ship, like about 25 passenger ships that come in Manila, only to sign off and change crew members, the Port of Manila is the best place. No argument on that,” he said.

The ship cannot divert to Manila if its cargo is not destined to this city. It will be a violation of ship’s charter agreement and a tremendous cost to ship owners.

He furthered: “A lot of manning companies were complaining. What’s the use of the green lane, which was signed by the secretaries of foreign affairs, labor, DoTr and others,” he added.

He asked that the PPA Advisory on July 8, 2020 to all port managers be reviewed and must be in line with the green lane guidelines to let the seafarer join or sign off in any port in the Philippines, if they were already allowed by the Bureaus of Quarantine and Immigration, and the PCG.

For his part, Marina Administrator Robert Empedrad told The Manila Times that “more ports would be opened for the Philippine Green Lane, for speedy and safe travel of seafarers, who were key workers in the global supply chain.”

He assured that despite some setbacks the government have been encountering on the seafarers concern on crew change, more ports would be opened for seafarer green lane protocol. ‘

At present, only the Port of Manila has been authorized by the IATF-EID to allow the disembarkation of overseas Filipino seafarers who have undergone RT-PCR test.

“They will open the ports once they are capacitated to undergo RT-PCR tests and once they have the quarantine facilities. Next ports to be opened would be Bataan, Batangas and Subic. Bataan may open anytime soon. The request is now with Secretary Tugade,” he told The Times, referring to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.