Marina administrator Robert Empedrad FILE PHOTO
The Philippine maritime industry and the staffing sector after a year of brutal waves of change caused by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
“We are now improving our crew change procedures to such an extent that they are appreciated and adopted by other countries,” said Vice-Admiral Robert Empedrad, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).
The administrator revealed that with the approval of the Interagency Working Group for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), more seaports are now open nationwide to speed up crew change both for Filipino and foreign sailors.
“Many ships have been diverted to the Philippines for crew changes. Our procedures have allowed their sailors to return home earlier,” he said.
It can be recalled that the maritime industry has been reeling from the effects of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) since March 2020. Training, assessments, examinations and deployment have been suspended to prevent the spread of the disease through mass gatherings and physical contact. While the industry immediately complied with all precautionary measures set by the government, the crew sector was hit hard by the suspensions, resulting in the slowdown in the deployment of sailors.
With the adoption of the Green Lane protocol for crew change and eventual recognition of Filipino seafarers as “key workers”, smooth and faster processing of their documents, repatriation and receipt of necessary government assistance have been done.
These historic policies have sparked new developments in the maritime industry, such as one-stop-shop services in seaports. “We have set up molecular laboratories and quarantine facilities, among others, on the docks. It is an inter-agency effort, which is why repatriation procedures have been speeded up,” Empedrad said.
“There were challenges in the beginning, birth pangs of the new policies. But we have all managed to adapt and improve until these best practices are now put into practice by other maritime nations.” , he added.
Another important step was the raising of the seafarers’ vaccine category from B4 (significantly higher risk socio-demographic groups) to A4 (frontline staff in essential sectors) until they were finally recognized. as A1 (front line service workers).
As a result, a massive national vaccination in local government units (Lgus) will take place today for seafarers, on the occasion of International Seafarers’ Day. Mariners will only have to show their booklet (Srb) and their seafarer identity document (Sid) to be able to receive a vaccine.
“The Association of Naval Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (Amosup) medical facilities in Manila, Cebu, Iloilo and Davao have been identified as regular vaccination sites exclusive to sailors,” said Cristina Garcia , President of the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA).
Recruitment agencies across the country have also risen to the challenge of adjusting to the “new normal” of employment, deployment and repatriation.
“We have put in place new recruitment and deployment processes via digital platforms. This has addressed concerns about the mobility of our staff and seafarers, especially at the height of the pandemic,” Garcia said.
Opportunities on the horizon
The slowdown in the deployment of Filipino sailors last year has led school leaders to offer employment opportunities on board ships to other nationalities such as Indians, Eastern Europeans and Chinese.
With evolving crew changes in the Philippines and the more transmissible Delta Plus variant of Covid-19 in India, the workforce sector sees opportunities for Filipinos to regain a foothold by serving on international ships.
“Our sailors are getting vaccinated and our crew change procedures are improving. With India grappling with the new variant of Covid, we can expect the employment opportunities that have been transferred to them since that time. last year be returned to Filipino sailors, “said Empedrad.
“We see that we are starting to regain our position in the deployment of Filipino sailors. This will be boosted by the upcoming exploitation of the cruise industry where more than 100,000 are expected to occupy these ships,” Garcia added.
The opening of regional airports also presents better opportunities for seafarers.
According to Garcia, the upcoming opening of Davao and Laoag international airports will increase passenger capacity and quarantine facilities.
“This will give us more opportunities to deploy our sailors and send those on board home,” she said.
Along with International Seafarers’ Day, the Marina Administrator assured the industry of continuous and stable services to all stakeholders.
“We will always be here to make sure that the services are faster and better, that your well-being and livelihood is taken care of. Greetings to all Filipino sailors! Thank you for your sacrifices and we will do better serve you, ”he said.