President Rodrigo Duterte was asked by manning agencies led by the Joint Manning Group (JMG), Filipino Association of Mariners Employment Inc. (FAME) as well as maritime unions Associated Marine Officers and Seafarers’ Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP) and the United Filipino Seafarers (UFS) to intervene to avoid the manning agencies going bankruptcy.

Maritime stakeholders have asked Malacañang’s intervention over the recent order of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) asking manning agencies to pay for the cost of the mandatory quarantine of returning seafarers. Instead, they urged that the government foot the bill required for quarantines caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

“Mr. President, we beg you to save the sea-based industry and protect the employment of the 600,000 Filipino seafarers,” they said.
DoLE Department Order (DO) 211-A stated that “the Philippine manning agency or the shipowners they represent shall cover the board and lodging of their deployed seafarers during their quarantine period following Standard A4.2.1, paragraph 1 (a), of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), 2006.”

The group explained the MLC stipulated that “Shipowners liability only speaks of the obligation to cover the cost for sickness and/or injury of seafarers occurring between the date of commencing duty and the date upon which they are deemed duly repatriated.”

The group, in a letter to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, said that if the department order is implemented, an estimated $700 additional cost per seafarer would be shouldered by a manning agency.

“To help the Filipino seafarers stay afloat, we appeal for your reconsideration and stop the implementation of DO 211-A. We request DoLE to allocate P6.52 billion, and we ask for a supplemental budget from Congress to cover the P2.8 billion reimbursements of local manning agencies (LMAs) and the estimated P3.72 billion quarantine costs for repatriated seafarers in the next three months,” the letter said.

Abosta Shipmanagement Corp. President Capt. Jess Morales said two shipowners already informed him that they cannot shoulder the quarantine cost because their obligation to seafarers was terminated upon arrival to the country.

“For the next six months or at the end of this year, the sea-based sector is expecting Filipino crew replacement of about 180,000 or roughly 30,000 per month. For the seafaring industry to survive, the budget for the quarantine cost should be funded through the General Appropriations Act (GAA),” he said.

“This would spell the death of the manning and seafaring industry,” said lawyer Iris Baguilat, president of Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila), who also cautioned the government on the impact of the government’s policies towards the issue.

“The Philippines cannot afford to play games with the shipowners by imposing additional costs outside the terms of employment. With the current state of global affairs, other nationalities were aggressively competing for these jobs,” CF Sharp Crew Management Inc. President Miguel Angel Rocha said.

For this part, UFS President engineer Nelson Ramirez argued, “It is irresponsible to expect the private sector to pay for these expenses, given the fact that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has P7 billion trust fund collected from mandatory fees of seafarers.”

Ramirez said OWWA and DoLE seemed to give special treatment to land-based workers in shouldering their quarantine costs, unlike seafarers who were asked to pay for their facilities.

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines Party-list Rep. Raymond Mendoza earlier supported the call to spare the agencies in shouldering the added burden, saying that the government should take on the costs of the quarantine before the discussion on who should pay, even if Filipino seafarers are the preferred workers in the industry.

“Our workers now have to compete with countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, China, and those in Eastern Europe, and seafarers from those countries are at an advantage because their governments are footing the bill for board and lodging. They do not experience the same trouble of being stranded for two and a half months in their point of origin, and their governments are subsidizing the seafaring industries for it to survive,” Mendoza said.

More than 20,000 seafarers have already been repatriated as of April 2020 and more will be arriving in the coming days due to the Covid-19 pandemic.