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Covid-19 virus onboard

SEA-THROUGH: Covid-19 virus onboard
Atty. Brenda V. Pimentel June 2, 2021

One of the twelve seafarers who were found positive of the Covid-19 virus onboard MV "Athens Bridge" and who were disembarked from the ship and brought for treatment in Manila expired last Sunday. The four other seafarers who were in critical condition are showing signs of recovery, which is a relief. In related news, another Filipino seafarer died while on board his ship in Indonesia.

The virus has found a new flight path - seaward. No matter the health and safety protocols, the virus will find its way to its next host, and seafarers are not exempted. Governments, shipping companies, manning agencies and all those taking charges of containing the transmission of the virus have been doing their level best to ensure seafarers are protected when they travel to board their assigned ship, and vice-versa when they disembark on their return back to their point of hire.

But one asks, what happens to a seafarer onboard who is found to have symptoms of the virus? What is the protocol to ensure he gets at least some kind of emergency treatment and medication until he is disembarked for treatment in a medical facility? Have medicine kits onboard been expanded to include medications and remedies for symptoms of the virus such as flu and the likes. Often, seafarers carry with them their prescription pills and expectedly some medicines to protect them from the virus. Is there any kind of protocol to guide seafarers on what they need to do in case of suspected infection onboard? Most likely, anxiety and fear of being infected could hold back one from dealing with a sick seafarer. Such is expected human reaction, to opt for self-preservation.

One Filipino seafarer who the wife said was incessantly coughing as they talked on the phone the night before he was found lifeless in his cabin was suspected to have been infected with the coronavirus. He died while the ship was underway from Egypt to Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. The seafarer's family was devastated by the news and lamented the fact that the head of the family, a good husband, and father, was alone with no one to help ease the discomfort and pain; there was no one to dispel the notion of being deserted and helpless as he lies down dying.

The family while trying to come around with the tragedy raises issues that the government, manning agencies, and shipowners must address, foremost of which is raising awareness of seafarers in dealing with covid-19 infections onboard and that of the provision of emergency first aid kit and the availability of medications and equipment as part of the medical chest onboard. The family asks the government to probe what in the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 would support the introduction of additional protection of Filipino seafarers against the covid-19 virus, especially so that seafarers may not be in the most convenient place when the virus attacks.

A related question that begs to be answered is how the government ensures that the remains of a Filipino seafarer who dies of the covid-19 virus is properly handled upon arrival at a Philippine seaport/airport. Of course, this presupposes that the cause of the death is accurately reported. Nonetheless, during these extraordinary times, the government should exercise care when dealing with the remains of seafarers who died on board to erase any doubt that infection from the coronavirus may have caused the death. Caution must at all times be taken even if the pathological cause of death is not related to the coronavirus. This is important to ensure there is no further transmission of the virus in this archipelago.

It is admirable that the family of the deceased seafarer, Salvador Adaptar Espina, Jr. while mourning his death, finds time to raise attention to the above issues so that no other seafarer's family will suffer the same loss of beloved kin.