In what was perceived as this government’s answer to the global shipping community’s call for flag states to address and ease protocols in the movement of seafarers in and out of the country, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) has indicated its plan to open more major ports in the county as gateways for international vessels to conduct “crew change”.
In a virtual press briefing on Wednesday, June 17, Marina Administrator VADM Robert Empedrad said he is going to ask the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) to allow more stranded seafarers to come home and increase the number of outbound seafarers to join their ship.
More importantly Empedrad indicated that in addition to Manila, major ports like Subic, Batangas and Davao might be opened to allow foreign ships to come in and conduct “crew change”. He also disclosed that he will he ask IATF to allow entry of foreign seafarers to join their respective vessels here in the Philippines.
With this set up, Empedrad said, more international ships will come to the Philippines to do crew change. There are only a few foreign seafarers that would come from abroad and they could just go straight to the ships”.
The advantages, he said, is that when these foreign ships come, it will be translated to revenues for the country. Secondly, the Filipino seafarers don’t have to travel far nor fly out. They can just go to the ports to join their vessels.
“So that’s very beneficial to our seafarers and our country as far as the economy is concern”’ he added.
At present, the global shipping industry is concerned over the physical and mental health of many seafarers, who are serving beyond their contracts. Their state of mental and physical health has a direct impact on their performance and eventually vessels’ safety and cargoes.
Earlier the International Maritime Organization (IMO) called for governments to keep shipping and supply chains open and grant special travel exemptions to seafarers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Circular Letter issued 30 March 2020, IMO has distributed a series of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities, proposed by a broad cross-section of global industry associations representing the maritime transportation sector.
The Circular Letter specifically calls on governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationality, as ‘key workers’ providing an essential service.
Referring to the issue of crew changes, it says professional seafarers and marine personnel should be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions to allow them to join or leave ships, and that governments should permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) to allow crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.
A joint statement also was released by he International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International transport Workers Federation (ITF) giving the governments to ease on “crew change or face the consequences. That June 15 deadline has now lapsed.
ITF has now advise that along with its affiliated unions around the globe will now assist hundreds of thousands of seafarers to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home.
This could be highly disruptive to global trade but only because of the failure of some governments to designate seafarers as ‘key workers’ and exempt them from Covid-19 travel restrictions and facilitate repatriation of around 200,000 seafarers who have been caught up in the crew change crisis.