The country’s manning industry is reeling over the domino effect caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic that has led to multiple community quarantines across the country.
Following the declaration of Code Red Sublevel 2 and the subsequent enhanced community quarantine in urban areas, particularly in Metro Manila, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) announced the suspension of trainings, practical assessments and theoretical examinations to prevent the spread of the disease through mass gatherings and physical contact.
While the industry immediately complied with all the precautionary measures set by the government, the manning sector has felt the brunt of the suspensions, which lead to the slowdown in the deployment of seafarers.
Manning agencies in Manila, in particular, are feeling the sharp end of the pandemic.
“We could not prepare seafarers for shipboard deployment because pre-medical examination clinics and training centers remain closed. The crew’s mobility to join ships is also hampered due to the suspension of domestic transportation,” said lawyer Iris Baguilat, president of Doehle-Seafront Crewing.
Baguilat added that ship managers and ship owners around the world have suspended crew changes onboard ships to protect seafarers as well. “They also prepared for the eventuality that the ships will be quarantined in ports for 14 days so they ensured enough provisions and bunkers onboard” she said.
This comes after the International Transport Workers’ Federation recently approved extended contracts for seafarers until April 16 “in order to mitigate problems surrounding the replacement of crew.”
“With this crew change crunch, our seafarers will remain onboard and will not be replaced until after the period is over. The ships, however, will continue to operate and we, from the shore-based offices, triggered our business continuity plan so we can work from home and continue processing the wages and allotments of the crew given that the banks remain open,” Baguilat explained.
“What really affected our operations is the sudden cancellation of flights due to lockdown from other countries,” said Froilan Vallano, technical recruitment officer of Crystal Shipping, Inc. “The challenge is we lose control over our crew’s situation when they arrive in a destination imposing stricter border controls and lockdowns. Some of our crew was placed in mandatory quarantine on their destinations for about 14 days. However, some are deported back here in Manila as a precautionary measure,” he added.
“The effect is a disaster,” said Capt. Edgardo Flores, president of Eastern Mediterranean Manning Agency. “Most countries now do not allow crew changes on ships and many have cancelled deployments in view of Covid-19 so it’s almost a standstill in crew rotation,” he said.
Flores added, however, that there are still countries where seafarers can be deployed, as there are still no advise for a lockdown. Seafarers are also asked to sign a standard letter of undertaking from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency to attest that they are aware of the risk.
Standstill in maritime training
“With the month-long suspension of trainings, no seafarer can renew their Seafarer’s Identification Record Book (SIRB) and STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) Certificate because valid trainings are part of the requirements. If all these documents are expired, they cannot be deployed for a shipboard job,” said chief mate Renato Sangalang of the Excellence and Competency Training Center.
“Marina has provisionally extended the validity of SIRB for six months and the STCW Certificates for two months. That will be useless, however, because the SIRB and passport have to be valid for one year before they go onboard. No company will gamble on deploying crew with documents that are about to expire upon embarking on the ship,” he added.
In this regard, Glenn Mark Blasquez of the Southern Institute of Maritime Studies Training Center appealed to Marina for the resumption of training, albeit for a limited number of students. “Together with the Board of the Philippine Association of Maritime Training Centers Inc., I am communicating with Marina through a position paper for a proposed limit of 15 students per class so as to resume their trainings while still observing the social distancing,” he said.
“We will continue with the standard precautionary measures but we intend to prioritize the trainees who already have schedules onboard,” he added.