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Vaccination of seafarers underway – Marina

Vaccination of seafarers underway – Marina
September 22, 2021

Seafarers waiting for their turn to be vaccinated at The Tent in Las Piñas City contributed photo
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) has assured industry stakeholders especially the manning community that the government's vaccination rollout for seafarers nationwide is in progress and projected to gain momentum as work shifts to local government units (LGUs).

"The vaccination program for our seafarers is moving forward right now," declared MARINA Administrator VAdm Robert Empedrad during the recent virtual press briefing organized by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) in collaboration with the National Task Force - West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) as part of the celebration of September as the Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month (ManaMo).

Empedrad's assurance is both crucial and timely following the assessment of leaders of the crewing community that pointed to the inoculation of Filipino seafarers as the single biggest factor that would decide the fate of the country's multibillion-dollar crewing business in the years to come after the Covid-19 pandemic.

His statement is also important in the light of some observations that the vaccination rollout initially spearheaded by Marina and some members of the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA) Maritime Group has somewhat slowed down in recent weeks after jabbing the first batch of 30,000 doses of Moderna vaccine in July and August.

The Marina supervised vaccination activities nationwide were conducted in collaboration with the ALMA Maritime Group, which help manned the various sites, and the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen's Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), which lent its hospital facilities and personnel in Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao for the vaccination rollout.

Empedrad was candid enough to admit there were earlier problems with the LGUs in implementing the priority groups for vaccination. He recalled that seafarers were initially categorized as B3 or essential workers, but due to intensive lobbying by Marina and LMAs, they were later moved up to A4 or frontline personnel in essential sectors, and further to A1 or economic frontline workers for those scheduled for immediate deployment.

"When they were categorized from B3 to A4 and later to A1, the issue was the lack of appreciation (by LGUs) of seafarers as A1 na kailangan natin silang mabakuhan para madeploy sa kanilang bagong contract." To address the problem, VAdm Emepdrad said MARINA created a technical working group (TWG) composed of representatives from the maritime sector, Department of Transportation (DOTr), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and Marina.

It also involved AMOSUP and the Marina Regional Offices. "The TWG was created to strengthen its strategic communication to engage LGUs and inform them the importance of giving priority in vaccinating our seafarers," the Marina chief explained. "So we're now moving. I think the LGUs are now vaccinating our seafarers and we're very happy for the support of LGUs in vaccinating our seafarers."

Another plus factor favoring the crewing community, Empedrad is close to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, a contemporary in the Armed Forces. "We have a robust collaboration with the National Vaccination Operation Center chaired by Sec. Galvez. Since alam namin ang demography ng seafarers, pag sinabi namin na kailangan ng vaccine, for example, sa Ilocos, the NVOC would appropriate vaccine to the Ilocos Region and then ang magja-jab are the LGUs because they already have the mechanism."

He estimated that there were about 50,000 fully vaccinated seafarers under the Marina initiated vaccination rollout, but VAdm. Empedrad projected that the actual figure is likely significantly higher because of the LGUs. Manila, Taguig, Las Pinas and Pasig are the most active LGUs in the vaccination of seafarers.

"Wala pa kaming nakukuha report from LGUs sa nabakunahang seafarers, but were receiving numbers that we have vaccinated around 100,000 seafarers, it still a long way to go kasi we have around 900,000 seafarers, but were moving forward and thanks to the maritime industry and the LGUs," the Marina chief said.