STATION OF THE CRUISE
By Coca H. Scobar
Cruise shipping is a major employer of the Phil seabased workforce, seafaring and hospitality second-nature to Filipinos --- and, at cheaper rates than those from advanced economies.
The Covid 19 pandemic affects the national economy, in the twin-whammies of lower dollar remittances and increased unemployment even by those usually employed and employable.
Other sectors of shipping (tankers, carriers, the likes) are also suffering due to loss revenues; but, nowhere near cruise liners which must spend for health services and repatriation of batches of crew and staff, on top of stress and stigma to the business.
It is not a parody aligning it to sacrifices expected from Christian Lenten practices; in fact, a walk of pathos along sad realities in the industry, with the principals and the varied auxiliaries.
Bearing the brunt.
Magsaysay Maritime (MMC) faced a maelstrom of protests from residents of Capas, Tarlac for repatriating 438 crew from the Grand Princess off Oakland, California, and housing them at the Athletes’ Village, new Clark City, for the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Only the strong will of the national government calmed emotions, probably supplemented by perks for the local government for the “cooperation.”
Earlier, Diamond Princess docked at Yokohama Bay quarantined on board 537 Filipinos from 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew. One Filipino tested positive, infected by an 80-year old Chinese who disembarked earlier.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., is quoted at his Twitter account warning facilities listed by the Dept. of Tourism (DOT) have not been accepted by the Dept. of Health (DOH) for some 530 Filipino crewmen being repatriated from infected cruise ships Costa Fabulosa and Costa Magica anchored near the port of Miami, Florida.
On a Sunday, March 29th, MMC confirmed the arrival of 244 Filipino crew and 46 Filipino guests repatriated from MV Costa Luminosa, its client, not commenting on the MSC Grandiosa and MSC Opera anchored near Rome. Figures vary due to differences in count basis (crew, guests; PUIs, PUMs; in the translation and transmission).
No shy violet.
The MMC statement on the Luminosa is basically a rehash of that on the Grand Princess, detailing quick and expensive liaison with government protocols. Technically, health facilities and protocols are not primary responsibilities to MMC.
But in common effort worldwide, MMC is extending maximum cooperation in spite of extreme business losses and a weak future of corporate recovery.
The formal statements of MMC may restrain the normally grouchy Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) whose standard reaction is suspending any agency lodged with complaints, or with incidents of contract violations,, even piracy or armed robbery on national waters. This maims recruitment agencies with expenses to face along loss of all revenues.
But again, MMC is not a pushover: largest deployment here in the cruise sector, both of seamen for the vessel and the hospitality staff. Its long and solid standing in shipping may have possibly impressed heavyweights in government who may help.
The Carnival group is the world’s largest cruise operator, with Carnival Cruises, Costa Cruises, Holland America and Princess Cruises. It is reeling with a US$500-million monthly cash burn; its stocks dipping 2% per day, over 74% for the year.
Costa Cruises cancelled four cruises on the Costa Serena, Costa Atlantica, Costa Venezia and Costa neoRomatica anchored at Chinese ports.
Princess Cruises opened awareness when its Princess Diamond was anchored in Yokohama Bay to quarantine crew and passengers. Of 445 Filipinos, 78 voluntarily remained for essential manning of the ship.
Holland America Line runs Zaandam (442 guests, 603 crew) and Rotterdam (808 guests, 538 crew), the two way below capacity. Both are engaged with the Broward Unified Command and take cue from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on who may be allowed to disembark and go home.
The Zaandam is anchored n Valparaiso, Chile, prevented from docking by Governor Ron DeSantis. He claims they have the facilities, but it may not be fair that these are all used by Floridians.
The vessel is on a South America cruise, starting in Buenos Aires, Argentina and ending in San Antonio, Chile.
Families of those onboard counter the governor may have a different view if his loved ones are those in need of humanitarian help (for 311 Americans, 52 Florida residents, and four under 12 years).
Theguardian.com says the vessel is one of least 10 anchored with capacity for 10,000; that the Miami Attorney General is investigating the sales pitch Covid 19 prospers in cold climate and the Caribbean is a “fantastic” option.
Royal Caribbean cancelled the Shanghai-Okinawa route of the Spectrum of the Seas. It may operate back May 12, 2020 in Alaska, Canada and New England.
Norwegian Cruise Line claims 445 of its Filipino seafarers (on the Dawn and Encore) are already repatriated to a total of 1,000 through CF Sharp-Manila, announces Roger Storey, Managing Director based in Singapore.
Azamara is giving 125% Future Cruise Credit Card for travel with it by December 2021.
Most tested positive of Covid 19 are the elderly, except for a two-year old who travelled by Norwegian Bliss last March1.
The US President clarifies the US$2-trillion relief package applies only to firms “organized” under US laws, not those outside or flying Flag-of-Convenience (FOC), to wit:
Carnival is registered in Panama, New England and Wales
Royal Caribbean is registered in Liberia
Norwegian Holdings is domiciled in Bermuda
US senators Twitted these firms “pay” taxes abroad and should not expect US dole-outs.
According to US Ports Cruise Line Intl Association (CLIA), some 50 cruise lines operate in the US giving 421,000 jobs and some US$53-trillion to the economy.
Canada delayed the start of her cruise season from April 20 to July 1, for cruises with over 500 passengers and crew.
The local front.
It is hard to segregate who are cruise crew and who are general seafarers. But it is clear local sentiments are pitched higher on the Covid 19 threat due to uncare, ignorance, overthinking, self-interest, and fake news. A sampling:
Capt. Edgardo Flores, Owner’s Rep, Eastern Mediterranean Manning Agency, says this is what he fears; nobody wishes to listen. Now Metro Manila and the whole of Luzon are exposed, somebody must do something as he calls seafarers forgotten modern-day heroes.
They need places to stay. Facilities either refuse them or are fully-booked, given the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ESQ) in the whole of Luzon.
Flores vents his ire on OWWA Administrator Cacdac whom Flores accuses of refusing any action until after the crises “to talk things over.”
Flores underscores “the saddest fact” is that seafarers are contractual workers; looses connection with the employers as soon as they disembark at the airport towards home.
Dr. Glenn Mark Blasquez, PAMTCI Board member, appreciates OWWA and the MARINA for helping, as some seafarers used discarte (wiles) to find accommodation. He proposed for PAMTCI members to offer their dormitories for stranded and repatriated seafarers, reaching common advocacy with ACT-CIS Rep. Nina Taduran and MARINO Partylist 2nd Nominee Macnell Lusotan.
Capt. Frederick Dalumay, at Maranhão, Brazil, laments partisan politics in the issue; blames “Yellow Forces” for continuous detraction on government plans and implementation with trash talks.
He says seafarers maintain the supply chain, not dispensable nor disposable.
Seaway Magazine has appealed on OWWA and DOLE to assist some seafarers stranded in Manila due to the implementation of the ESQ. Some seafarers, declined by some hotels and dormitories are now reportedly sleeping in barangay halls, even on the sidewalks.
Seaway has tried also to contact OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, but there was no reply.
Marino Partylist is drafting a resolution for the Executive branch to act.
Senator Grace Poe has asked the Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19 to immediately release guidelines for the inclusion of stranded transient migrants especially seafarers in the list of beneficiaries.
She was referring to Republic Act 11469, Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, where 18 million low-income households will receive P5,000 to P8,000 in cash subsidy.
There will also be an additional budget to be given to “individuals in crisis situations” of the DSWD and the Quick Response Fund of the local governments.
Still a long way.
Seaway recalled Marlon Roño of MMC as saying to Radio-Tv Station DZMM that “over 10,000 seabased workers are expected to come home due to the suspension of operations of the cruise industry’s major players.”
Should Rono’s figures prove correct, the Phil has yet to agonize for a long, long time living on ECQ, some horrified on the risk of violent mass action due hunger.
On top, a former health secretary analysis over CNN Tv is that the Phil is not over the hill; on the contrary, we should expect higher incidents due to more testings and faster results. She cannot agree the flat curve is within Government time estimate.
As of press-time, we are yet on 2,500 tracing, but doing well on a 60-40% ratio on those positive who recovered and those who died. Better tracing, more testing and strict quarantines are needed before the incident curve flattens to a safe and manageable degree.
There is a lull in compilation of statistics on seabased workers. The latest from POEA is only for the first semester of 2018; for Top Ten Types of Vessels, only for 2013 and 2014. Given that passenger vessels are always second place, these figures may help in protocols on embarkation, crew changes and the likes.
This may even be a useful take-off point for the Dept. of Foreign Affairs (DFA), particularly for migrant workers tasked for U/Sec Sarah Lou Arriola.
Major departments (DILG, OP, DOLE, DSWD, DA, DTI) focus to immediately implement the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act of 2020, a fast-tract law giving Pres. Duterte powers and resources to address the pandemic crisis.
They will issue a Social Amelioration Card (SAC) which edges out seafarers and seabased workers since the sectors are for: A-Seniors, B-Pregnant Women C-Lactating Mothers, D-Persons with Disabilities, E-Solo Parents, and F-No Job.
On health conditions, beneficiaries should have: 1-Heart Ailment, 2-High Blood Pressure, 3-Lung Disease, 4-On Dialysis, 5. Cancer.
While there could be technical loopholes, it is clear merchant mariners and seabased workers are not in the radar of aid, unlike land transport drivers and usual recipients of dole-outs.