By Atty. Iris Baguilat
President, Dohle Seafront Crewing Manila
(as published by Marino World on October 20, 2020)

In what is seen as a major response to the Crew Change dilemma, the Intl Maritime Employers Council (IMEC) and the Intl Transport Workers Federation (ITF) jointly launched an enhanced quarantine and testing facility in Manila under the auspices of the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Phil (AMOSUP).

When the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic impacted the global economy, one of the hardest hit was shipping, the lifeblood of a massive network of men and ships that make sure the global economy is moving.

It draws into the national consciousness the role of the more than 400,000 Filipino seafarers play in an industry that carries 90% of the global economy via ship and with more than half of these men belonging to one single nationality.

When borders restrict and nations close doors to arrest the massive rise of Covid-19, seafarers, and ships, were caught in between with most not able to come home nor join ships to relieve those who have been overstaying onboard to the detriment of health and mental well-being.

The call for governments of flag states signatory to the Intl Maritime Organization (IMO)lead to ease on restrictions and let the movement of seafarers come through was met with-feet dragging forcing some of the biggest shipping organizations and labor unions to call out for intervention to avoid a massive humanitarian crisis that was fast taking shape.

For the Philippines, maritime stakeholders had to double their efforts in trying to relay to the government the urgency of the problem. This is not just a matter of a few jobs lost, but a huge chunk off the country’s economic coffers from an industry that annually contributes more than US$7-billion in remittance.

Thus, the “Green Lane” was born created by the Phil government led by the MARINA to ensure seafarers are accorded speedy and safe travel, subject to health protocols mandated by the Philippine government, including safe and swift disembarkation and crew change during the COVID-19 pandemic. This also intends to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for both Filipino and foreign seafarers whether inbound, outbound or transiting during crew change or repatriation.

Rising cases

It is pointed out that some foreign ports are putting ships on a two-week hold before being allowed to berth when they learn that it just had a crew-change in the Philippines.

The Manila Times reported the Maritime Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore’s statement revealing that test results among seafarers who are to join their vessels in Singapore have been tampered. The MPA did not mention the home country of seafarers who tested positive for the disease. However, a Filipino manning agency application for a crew change was recently rejected by the MPA.

As per IMEC, the project just launched started with the specific aim of addressing concerns raised by a number of crew change hubs in recent weeks over the authenticity of COVID-19 negative tests obtained in the Philippines and over the efficacy of pre-embarkation quarantine served by joiners before being deployed.

The working group made up of IMEC and ITF representatives include local maritime stakeholders like the AMOSUP, Western Shipping, Döhle, Marlow Navigation, Bernard Schulte, and Career Shipping.

The group has now contracted two separate hotels that will act as a one-stop-shop for swabbing and quarantining of joiners from IMEC-member companies as well as a third party security company that will assist with the monitoring of the quarantine phase.

ITF affiliate AMOSUP is contributing its government-approved testing facility to process the tests, to provide administrative support for the process whilst a grant from the IMTF. AMOSUP fund will provide financial support to the initiative and cover a number of ancillary costs.

The group has initially block-booked 200 single occupancy rooms from two hotels. These facilities can offer more if there is demand.

Both facilities will be open for joiners to check-in from 28th October. Members are strongly encouraged to book early, as rooms are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis. When activated the project guarantees the following:

  • Seafarers will be tested upon arrival and again at the end of the quarantine period, swabbing will take place in their rooms. Results will be provided within 24 hours.
  • Meals will also be served in the rooms and temperatures monitored twice daily by project personnel.
  • Members will be responsible for transportation of the seafarers to the facility and their transfer from the facility to the airport or seaport at the end of quarantine, a specific protocol on how the post-quarantine transfers must be effected will be provided.
  • COVID negative test certificates and quarantine certificates will be made tamper-proof using blockchain technology so that they can be verified by the local authorities of the receiving country.

For the costing, Members will only be responsible for payment of hotel rooms (inclusive of 3 daily meals + water and free Wifi) and the PCR-RT tests conducted by the AMOSUP hospital. All other costs will be shouldered by the IMEC and ITF.

The facilities are in the process of being “white-listed” by the Singaporean authorities and we hope this will be in place by the time they start operating. We are also in discussions with other governments.