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The 25th Nat’l Seafarers Day in the time of pandemic

The 25th Nat’l Seafarers Day in the time of pandemic
Dennis Gorecho - October 1, 2020

“SEAFARERS are keyworkers. You are not alone. You are not forgotten.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the Holy Masses held nationwide carried this theme in their homilies as part of the 25th National Seafarers Day (NSD) celebrated on Sept. 27, 2020 and led by the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS).

Wreath and flower-throwing activities were also done for deceased seafarers and fishers, as well as for those who have perished or missing at sea.

The flowers carried the message of love and gratitude as there is no distance of time or oceans but a mutual waiting for a reunion in peace.

The work of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park.

The job entails laborious manual tasks conducted in a moving ship, which makes for increased work-related stress aside from exposure to weather changes that may result in illnesses or injury to seafarers.

The shipping industry and seafaring profession are not without incident or peril. Some may go missing or die in maritime disasters.

The European Maritime Safety Agency reported that between 2011 and 2020, there were 745 work-related fatalities among maritime workers and nearly 9,000 persons injured, among other tragic statistics of this sector.

On July 9, 199 then President Fidel V. Ramos issued Proclamation No. 828 declaring Aug. 18 as NSD. The AOS was tasked to coordinate with the public and private sector in activities related to the celebration of the said event.

The purpose of the proclamation is to give due recognition to the vital role of Filipino seafarers towards the development of the Philippines as a maritime country. Later, Proclamation No. 1094 was issued in 1997 by President Ramos moving NSD to every last Sunday of September every year.

The Philippines is considered a major supplier of maritime labor globally. It is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five complements on board a vessel at any time.

The estimated 519,031 deployed Filipino seafarers in 2019 (per Philippine Overseas Employment Administration or POEA data) remitted $6.539 billion or around P326.95 billion. The sea-based sector’s remittances comprise at least 22 percent of the total dollar remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The recent activities were attended by some family members of the 36 missing Filipino seafarers of the Panama-flagged livestock carrier Gulf Livestock 1 that capsized in southwest Japan on Sept. 2, 2020 during the onslaught of Typhoon Maysak.

The 2002-built 133.6-meter-long (438 feet) ship had 39 Filipinos, two New Zealanders and two Australians and 5,800 cattle on board.

The vessel left Napier, New Zealand on Aug. 14, 2020 and was sailing to Tangshan, China when it experienced an engine issue in inclement weather and sent a distress signal. Then it went missing.

The Japanese Coast Guard has found three crew members, two are alive while one was declared dead-on-arrival at a hospital.

The AOS Philippines, through an open letter, made an urgent appeal to the Philippine Government to extend any assistance and/or to act on behalf of the heartbroken families to request neighboring countries in conducting search and rescue within their scope of waters and islands.

“We have not lost hope and we hold on to God, relying on His mighty power for miracles. Jesus said in the Bible, ‘Courage! Don’t be afraid. It’s me!’ (Matthew 14:27). We continue to pray that others may have somehow survived this tragic incident. Our thoughts and heartfelt empathy go out to all the family members and friends who are anticipating good news at home,” the AOS said.

Pope Francis earlier aired his concern on the challenges faced by maritime workers and their families in the midst of the pandemic, adding that “without the people of the sea, many parts of the world would starve.”

People depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their sustenance as the fishing industry employs, directly or indirectly, more than 200 million people.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has urged governments to recognize seafarers as “key workers” who ensure the flow of trade and the movement of vital medical supplies, safety equipment, food and other critical goods during the pandemic.

While delivering a key service to society, they face safety and health risks, and, increasingly physical and mental exhaustion.

“Hana ni ta magawid ayu nga mapmaphod tapnu muntitiggawan tuu” is the Ifugao translation of “We hope you come home safe so we could see each other again”—a message that Maya Addug-Sanchez wants her brother, Captain Dante Addug, along with the flowers, to receive and respond to.