Various maritime industry groups asked for the intervention of President Rodrigo Duterte in their quest to prioritize Filipino seafarers when Covid-19 vaccines arrive.

Representing 39 manning agencies and labor unions, lawyer Iris Baguilat, also the president of Döhle Seafront Crewing Manila, said they support the clamor of Maritime Industry Authority administrator Robert Empedrad to include maritime professionals in the priority list of the vaccination program.

Since last year, Empedrad and the Marino party list have been asking the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to include seafarers in the essential category.

“We are greatly pleased with the progress that the Philippine government is making regarding the procurement of vaccines. We understand that this is a challenging endeavor, even for other maritime countries, and we are appreciative of the government’s efforts,” the group told the President in a letter.

Under the IATF and World Health Organization-Strategic Advisory Group of Experts, those to be inoculated first are frontline health workers, indigent senior citizens, remaining senior citizens, remaining indigent population, uniformed personnel, teachers and school workers, all government workers, essential workers, sociodemographic groups, overseas Filipino workers (including seafarers), other remaining workforce and students.

“As the government plans to distribute free vaccines, we respectfully request to give free vaccines to Filipino seafarers. Deemed as key workers who are vital to maintaining supply chains, Filipino seafarers are counted upon by the international shipping community.

They are responsible for carrying essential commodities such as food, medicines, and fuel all over the world,” the maritime groups stated.

The group further stressed that as part of an international labor force, Filipino seafarers compete with other nationalities, who are already being vaccinated in their home countries.

“We foresee that eventually, vaccination will become mandatory for the global travel and if our crew are not travel-ready by then, we will lose seafaring employment opportunities that will be detrimental not only to the seafarer’s families but to the Filipino labor force, in general, as well,” the letter read further.

The maritime stakeholders maintained that “the early vaccination of seafarers will ensure their employment and collective welfare for the maritime industry and the stability of the country’s economy.”