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Stranded Filipino seafarer John Iyod Restauro shares ordeal in Fiji

Stranded Filipino seafarer shares ordeal in Fiji
Yashika Torib June 30, 2021

John Iyod Restauro felt an overwhelming sense of relief and excitement as he stepped into the airport. After about two and a half years of being stranded in Fiji, New Zealand, he is finally going back home to Cebu.

As soon as his fellow Filipino seafarers were cleared by the ground attendant, he handed over his documents and smiled. He is ready for the long-haul flight.

What came next, however, felt like an unexpected blow. He was asked to stay behind.

The young Fourth Engineer momentarily blacked out, his long-anticipated reunion with loved ones is again postponed.

"All my energy drained the moment I heard it. All I wanted was to be home. I felt so miserable," he recalled.

Restauro was among the seven Filipino seafarers who were abandoned by their employers in Fiji, New Zealand. Four of them were fired on Christmas day last year after refusing to surrender their passports to their principal, Goundar Shipping. The other three were left stranded at a remote wharf.

Ignore and abandoned

According to Restauro, things started going wrong when their POEA issued contracts were breached by their employer, Able Maritime Agency.

"They asked us to sign a contract that is different from the one issued by POEA. This one lowered our wages to almost half of the stipulated salary. It also stated conditions that we do not agree with but we were forced to sign anyway because the contract was given just before our flight.

"Our manning agency then refused to send us back home after we have completed our six months employment contract. They said we needed to pay for our fare," Restauro said.

As the sole breadwinner of his family, Restauro had no immediate funds to secure his airfare so he decided to stay behind. After 23 months of waiting, he braved the same question "can I please go back home?" only to be given the same response "you have to buy your ticket".

It was then that Restauro brought the matter up to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Polo) in Wellington, New Zealand, and the International Transports Workers' Federation (ITF).

This move to seek help only made matters worse for the Fourth Engineer.

"Our principal abandoned us in the middle of the night when they found this out. I am now without work for the past five months here in Fiji," he lamented.

Meanwhile, the POEA has suspended the license of Able Maritime Agency earlier this month due to its lack of "efforts to monitor our seafarers".

Hoping for the best

The young Cebuano is currently under the care of the Filipino community in Fiji. He is also being assisted by the ITF, Stella Maris, and Mission to Seafarers.

"This is very traumatic, but this cannot stop me from being a seafarer. I also have my family to think about, my grandmother has been providing for us and I don't want her to be working again. What I learned, however, is to know whether I am being employed by an honest company. I also need to check their backgrounds as they do to us," he said.

"Apart from me, there are no other seafarers in my family. I chose this path, though, not because of the promised adventures of traveling the world or its popularity among the Filipinos. I wanted to become a marine engineer, a good one because I am personally into it and I know it will provide a comfortable life for my family," he concluded.