With the new coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) variant starting to spread, many companies are bracing themselves for a possible prolonged lockdown and the likelihood of the current crew change crisis turning for the worse.

One manning company, however, sounded positive, indicating that the industry is in a better position now to cope with the challenges posed by the new variant which many medical experts believed to be more contagious than the one that originated from Wuhan, China.

Lawyer Iris Baguilat, president of the Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila), said in a recent virtual forum that her company had already put in place a program that takes care of the mental health of its seafarers which is a serious concern during the pandemic.

“In the Döhle vessels, we have the Break the Silence campaign,” Baguilat told the pilot episode of the Career4Sea Virtual Talk, a forum organized by the Safety4Sea, a leading online publication in the maritime industry.

“It’s a real conversation; we provided a helpline to our seafarers to talk about certain concerns in a confidential way where we, as the employer, would not even know whether they have accessed the hotline or not. So, if they have issues or problems we have a resource on board.”

Asked about what changes the Covid-19 pandemic brings in the industry, the Döhle Seafront president noted that there were more collaborative efforts among various quarters of the maritime industry now than in the past.

“There is a strong collaboration in the industry as indicated by the IMEC and the ITF, working hand in hand, the union, and the employers,” the crewing executive told the forum hosted by Safety4Sea Managing Editor Apostolos Belukas.

As proof, she mentioned the collaboration between the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) that resulted in the establishment of the IMEC-ITF quarantine and testing facility.

Baguilat is one of the members of the working group that set up this joint IMEC-ITF project which gained approval from the different Port States including Singapore.

The pandemic also provided the condition for competing manning agencies to form a united front in pushing for the resolution of the common issues confronting the manning sector.

She said, “And among us manning companies and crewing agencies, who are traditional competitors, but to survive we have to cling on to each other and share our knowledge and experiences to avoid similar problems.”

Baguilat pointed out the important development of strong cooperation between the country’s manning sector and the government forged at the height of the pandemic last year when both parties were grappling to cope with Covid-19.

The manning industry now has “closer collaboration with different government agencies,” she said.

These agencies, which have formally joined hands to officially form the ALMA Maritime Group, have an exceptional partnership with the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) under Administrator Robert Empedrad.

Aside from Marina, Baguilat also referred to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) among other government agencies.

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