SHIPS TO THE RESCUE
By Coca H. Strobar
Anticipating landbased health facilities may be unable to cope with the surge of Covid-19 suspects and patients, ships are also being converted as quarantine areas and medical centers.
Earlier, Senator Francis Tolentino asked the DOTr to initially provide three passenger vessels, one for Luzon (Manila Port), Visayas (Cebu Port) and Mindanao (Davao Port) to serve as hospital ships.
DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade assures they are already “exploring the feasibility of commissioning passenger ships, and possibly utilizing Coast Guard vessels, as ‘floating quarantine hospitals’ which can be prepositioned in any part of the country, in case of an uncontrolled outbreak of the virus.”
Ready to go.
To prepare for a possible burst of repatriates required to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine, DOTr has partnered with 2GO Shipping to convert two of its passenger vessels as quarantine ships for 1,500 patients.
This idea was proposed March 22nd by the Coast Guard (PCG), the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved it March 30, in close coordination with DOH and the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ).
PCG Commandant Joel Garcia assures there will be orderly operations of quarantine ships. The retired admiral also ensures the delivery of effective onboard of health care, environment controls, hygiene protocols, maritime safety and security regulations.
U/Sec Artemio U. Tuazon, Jr., DOTr OIC- Administrative Service and IATF official representative, says the DOTr reach out to shipping companies has resulted into more expressing intention to join the project.
The capacity of each ship will be limited to observe proper physical distancing. The ships will also be inspected by the DOH to ensure compliance with health requirements.
Docked or ducking.
A Red Cross (PRC) officer says the MV Amazing Grace, launched with great hoopla in May 8, 2017 is docked at Subic, with only PRC Chairman Richard Gordon knowing what’s up. It is the largest hospital ship in the country, procured by PRC after SuperTyphoon Yolanda battered Eastern Visayas.
The Mat-Su Assembly (Alaska) sold the ferry to PRC for US$1.75-million, a fraction of what the borough originally hoped to get for it. The sale was jointly funded by the Intl Federation of Red Cross, Red Crescent Societies, the British, German and Japanese Red Cross.
It is a 195-foot military prototype, one of the most hi-tech ships ever built at Alaska Ship & Drydock (now Vigor Alaska) in Ketchikan, Alaska. It holds up to 120 passengers, 20 vehicles and has a 35-ton overall freight capacity. The main deck can be lowered to offload equipment and can land on as little as four feet of water, can operate both as a cargo-loaded barge that can haul on shore and a twin-hulled vessel that cuts through choppy seas.
But, fuel alone takes P27- million full tank, Shell usually picks the tab. Caltex pitches in during major disasters. PRC entered into an agreement with the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP) to provide onboard crew and maintenance.
Increasing as yet.
Current estimate of the DFA places repatriation as close to 5,000 seafarers by Palm Sunday's end. The latest arrival is 322 seafarers from Italy (114 from Costa Diadema and 208 from Costa Victoria) totalling some 4,687 Fiipino sea-based workers repatriated since the MV Diamond Princess incident from Yokohama, Japan.
Most seafarers from this figure started arriving since 01 April and the repatriation process has been on going continuously in as many days, observes DFA Migrant Workers' Affairs U/Sec Sarah Lou Arriola.
The whole of-government approach includes coordination efforts from DFA, its Philippine Consulate General in Milan, Italy, DOH, OWWA, CAAP, NAIA, and Magsaysay Maritime (MMC), the local manning agency. With about a third of all seafarers worldwide being Filipinos, the repatriation efforts are expected to continue beyond Easter Sunday.
Ships on relay.
Royal Caribbean Cruises will bring crew back home using its ships, Spectrum, Ovation, Radiance, Voyager and Celebrity Solstice.
The Spectrum will take on crew from the Radiance, and then sail to Bali, Manila and Shanghai where crew will sign off as needed.
The company is arranging charter flights to India for Indian crew, who can sign off in Bali on April 16.
Crew from the Celebrity Solstice will be moved to the Ovation and Voyager. The Ovation will then head to Bali for a mid April call to disembark crew; the Voyager is expected to sail to Manila for a late April call to disembark crew.
The company is working closely with port agents to understand restrictions, and is putting together a plan to safely tender crew between ships.
The Voyager's tenders can take 120 crew per trip, while the Ovation and Spectrum have tender capacity at 180 persons each.
New York loves.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in New York harbour to treat patients not infected with Covid-19, in order to free up hospital space within the city to treat coronavirus patients, says
Capt. Joseph O’Brien, commodore of the military’s New York Task Force.
“We knew from the outset that expanded hospital capacity was critical. We asked and the federal government answered,”
New York governor Andrew Cuomo declares, “This ship is a step forward in our fight against Coronavirus” as it is like adding another hospital in New York City.
Mayor Bill de Blasio adds, “It’s such a boost to see the military arrive to help us out.” The Comfort holds 1,000 beds, more than most individual city hospitals.
Mercy Ships is an intl charity, currently operates the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, providing humanitarian aid like free health care, community development projects, community health education, mental health programs, agriculture projects, and palliative care for terminally ill patients.
Mercy Ships has operated in more than 57 developing nations and 18 developed nations with current focus on Africa. It has its Intl Support Center (ISC) in Garden Valley, Texas and national resource offices in 16 countries.
The hospital ship SS Hope inspired Mercy Ships pres. and founder Don Stephens whose research showed that 95 of the 100 largest cities in the world were port cities. Therefore, a hospital ship could deliver healthcare very efficiently to large numbers of people.
The birth of his disabled son, John Paul, also moved him forward to his vision of a floating hospital; a visit with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, further deepened his commitment to serving the world's neediest people.
While ships are being converted as quarantine ships, the MS Zaandam cannot find any port allowing it to dock, after Florida said it will no longer provide Safe Refuge for her close to a hundred cases of symptomatic crewmembers.
The Zaandam is currently the only vessel with Covid-19 infection status.
Many believe that if the Zaandam were a hotel in the middle of a city, that hotel would be evacuated at once, with its employees removed from its premises, individually quarantined or isolated. It would be locked up until such a time that it can be sanitized prior to being allowed to operate again.
On Article VI, Section 23 (2) of the Constitution, the President is authorized to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out the declared national policy, to adopt temporary emergency measures to respond to the pandemic, like:
(h) Section 17, Article XII, direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities including passenger vessels and, other establishments, to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities; and public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons provided
Management and operation of the enterprises shall be retained by the owners who shall render a full accounting as basis for compensation;
Compensation for any additional damage or costs incurred by the owner or the possessor on account of complying with the directive after the situation has stabilized or at the soonest time practicable
Unjustifiably refuse or signify they are no longer capable of operating the President may take over operations subject to limits in the Constitution.
(l) Partner with the Red Cross (PRC), as the primary humanitarian agency that is auxiliary to the government in giving aid to the people, subject to reimbursement, in the distribution of goods and services incidental in the fight against Covid-19.
The latest is in the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, allowing him to tap the barangays (local communities) at best capacity.