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Vaccination of Filipino seafarers to keep PH global edge

Vaccination of Filipino seafarers to keep PH global edge
William Depasupil July 7, 2021

THE mass vaccination of Filipino seamen will help keep their competitive advantage in the global shipping industry as the most sought-after seafarers over other nationalities amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a maritime stakeholder.

The Associated Philippine Seafarers' Union (APSU) issued the statement after the inoculation of at least 500 seafarers' union members on Tuesday at the Taguig City Vaccination Hub in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) with industry-preferred Pfizer and Moderna vaccine brands.

"With the continuing government mass vaccination of our seafarers against Covid-19, we are hopeful that the Filipino seafarers can keep their competitive advantage in the global shipping industry as preferred seafarers over other nationals because the Philippine government is prioritizing them as essential workers in its vaccination rollout," Gerard Seno, APSU national executive vice president, said.

Foreign seafarers competing for work with Filipinos in merchant ships are from China, Russia, India, Indonesia and Ukraine.

The Philippine seafaring industry, which accounts for 25 percent of all seafarers in the world, was one of the few remaining economic drivers and dollar earners of the country when the pandemic broke out.

The APSU is affiliated with the country's largest group of unions, the Associated Labor Unions, and the biggest labor center, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.

Seno said the unions are grateful to Mayor Lino Cayetano, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief Hans Leo Cacdac for making the mass vaccination of seafarers possible.

The IATF-EID recently placed the seafarers and overseas Filipino workers on the priority list for vaccination to A1 category from B3 and B5 on the heels of a joint lobby by seafarers unions and manning agencies to ensure the Filipinos' competitive position as the preferred crew for international seafaring.

The Maritime Industry Authority said there are an estimated 730,600 Filipino seafarers, but because of pandemic restrictions, deployment dropped by 54 percent from 470,000 in 2019 to 252,000 in 2020.

According to a global union federation, the International Transport Workers Federation, before the pandemic, Filipino seafarers were the backbone of the global shipping industry, with 25 percent of the 1.7 million marine workers in 51,400 cruise and merchant ships transporting essential products to and from different parts of the world.

Bello said Filipino seafarers are preferred by shipowners and manning agencies because they have a legacy for being hardworking, multi-skilled and professional workers.

The APSU said because of the pandemic quarantine restrictions and lockdowns that increased the cost of hiring Filipino seafarers, the Filipinos' viability was seriously challenged by competition from Vietnam, China, Myanmar and Indonesia and Eastern Europe.

It added that strict lockdown procedures prevented the change of crew with only about 25 percent of normal crew change.

Seafarers stranded in ships were forced to sign contract extensions and work during the duration of the lockdowns.

Their usual tour of duty normally runs between four and10 months but in many cases Filipino seafarers were kept on board on extended contract - some lasting 14 months to 18 months - thereby exposing themselves to physical and mental fatigue with accompanying risk of contracting Covid-19.

In worst-case situations, many Filipino seafarers who could not board ships over strict vaccination travel protocols lost their jobs, according to the APSU.

Despite the health crisis, it said the global supply chain is still vigorous and there remains a huge demand for Filipino seafarers.

While A1 priority vaccination and the green lanes are correcting some of the policy gaps, the group asked the IATF-EID to simplify the vaccination process of seafarers, allow active seafarers to be vaccinated in their respective local government units before returning to Manila for deployment, vaccinate returning seafarers upon release of their negative RT-PCR and prior to returning home to their respective provinces, and give a single-dose vaccine because of the unpredictability of their next deployment.