(As published in The Manila Times on April 14, 2021)

FILIPINO seafarers have been included in the vaccine priority list to ensure their employment and safety of global supply chains.

Lawyer Iris Baguilat, president of the Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila), welcomed the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force to give priority to seafarers (IATF) as vaccination against Covid-19 becomes mandatory for global travel.

As part of an international labor force, Filipino seafarers compete with other nationalities who were already vaccinated by their respective countries to be fit to work onboard.

“After a long wait, Filipino seafarers finally have the protection they deserve. Finally, all our efforts have come to fruition. Filipino seafarers are now next in line for a vaccination.

Currently, the government is vaccinating citizens with comorbidities. If a Filipino seafarer has a chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, malignancy, diabetes mellitus, and obesity, he should sign up for the ongoing jabbing. If without comorbidities, he is next in line,” Baguilat said.

Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) Administrator Robert Empedrad said IATF included seafarers in the priority group A4 of the national vaccination program.

“Filipino seafarers frequently enter various ports across the world which puts them at more risk of acquiring the virus, including different variants. Competence is superseded by health requirements. The non-mandatory but preferred vaccination of Filipino seafarers will ensure their employment, and safe transport of vaccines, medical supplies, and other important goods,” IATF said.

The Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) has requested for the reclassification of Filipino seafarers to A4, which was intended for frontline personnel in essential sectors, including uniformed personnel and those sectors identified by the IATF as essential during enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). This makes seafarers move to the top 4 priority groups to be vaccinated.

Baguilat said from Category B3, which is seventh in the queue, seafarers are now next in line at Category A4 in the government’s national vaccination program for COVID-19.

“With the program recently extending to senior citizens (A2) and people with comorbidities (A3), we call on our crewmembers to signify, register to avail the vaccines should they become accessible to your local government units,” she said.

She explained that the vaccination will not only ensure the seafarers and their family to have a better chance of being protected from the virus but also for the stability and integrity of our country as the manning capital and top supplier of seafarers in the world fleet.

“We are hoping to see relevant improvement in the arduous crew change process we are currently subjected to, once a significant number of seafarers have been vaccinated,” she said.

Capt. Teodoro Quijano, of Barko International, Inc. said manning agents cannot hire or deploy seafarers who don’t agree to be vaccinated. “Administrator Empedrad was right, we don’t have control over them.”

There were 730,651 Filipino seafarers registered in Marina and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) databases. Out of 730,651 seafarers, 51,646 of them are domestic.

They need to present the seaman’s book and an overseas employment certificate to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, a total of 181,000 seafarers are without updated sea service within the last three years.

“If Janssen will be available and approved by the national government, the IAWG suggested that priority allocation be given to seafarers to fast track their deployment,” it added.

Originally published at The Manila Times

IAWG will augment the seafarers’ needs by facilitating the use of transport facilities and maritime schools across the country.