Marketing Her Interest: PH POSITIONS AS CREW CHANGE HUB
The Philippines champions the Green Lane Agreement, a magnanimous thrust which benefits seafarers. In concept, they can travel seamless over foreign borders to and from crew change.
In pragmatic terms, it is for the country’s seafarers huge enough to claim the Philippines as the “Manning Capital” of the world. Statistically, China has a larger force but her mariners serve only on China-flagged vessels.
Two mountains block the realization of the ideal:
- Foreign Port Administrations are unwilling to open their borders (as diminution of sovereignty and an opportunity to make money on the documentation.)
- Philippine facilities are suspect on COVID-19 testing accuracy, with unauthorized people milling, peddling as in a market, “facilitation services” at areas of embarkation and disembarkation.
(Small wonder Australia is threatening to dishonour certifications from the Philippines as two vessels, Patricia Oldendorff and Vega Dream, called from Manila at Port Hedland, Western Australia, with 21 and 7 COVID-19 positives.)
The latter mess has been observed by many, prominently by an executive of a manning agency known in the industry for hands-on assistance on crew changes, even personally accompanying his seafarers at local piers and airports.
Transport Secretary Arthur P. Tugade has beautiful pronouncement at the World Maritime Day webinar held September 24th, also United Nations’ 75th Anniversary.
He was joined by heavyweights: UNGC CEO and Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo, ILO Director General Guy Ryder, IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) General Secretary Stephen Cotton, and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Secretary General Guy Platten.
Other transport ministers participated: Canada’s Marc Garneau, France’s Annick Girardin, Kenya’s James Macharia and Panama’s Noriel Araúz.
Tugade: “We have adopted policies that paved the way to strengthening the maritime industry and our seafaring activities (given Filipinos are about 25% of the 1.5 million seafarers worldwide).
He then recited accomplishments:
- Established the Green Lane for safe and unimpeded travel of seafarers
- Identified ports to serve as crew change hubs with One-Stop-Shops for the uniformed processing of arrivals in all gateways.
- Extended for 1 year validity the Seafarer STCW certificates, the Seafarer Record Book, the Seafarer Identification and Record Book to ensure the unhampered deployment and crew change of Filipino seafarers
- Completed 360 port projects, inaugurated four notwithstanding this pandemic.
At the VCafe@DOLE webinar October 7th, Phil Overseas Employment Administrator Bernard Olalia observes that after the approval of the Green Lane system, some 50,000 deployments occurred in July, followed by 40,000 more in August and September.
While there is increase in commercial vessels (cargo, containers, tankers), POEA has no stats on the cruise ships deployment. POEA appears not ready for sector statistics as to type of skills, vessels deployed, the likes, these being excluded in its website.
Test results are suspect (like so many false positives). Yet, business mandarins continue to control the testings, in connivance with senior government bureaucrats. Australia’s threat may lead to reforms, with Singapore and China also getting frustrated.
The defence is that those tested positive picked the virus in transit. This is not credible as the seafarers go direct to the next port from homeport. More credible is the rumor test kits donated by a foreign source are being peddled as the test kits.
The government was criticized for setting only in a Manila airport a One-Stop Green Lane. In response, Green Lane hubs are being organized in Manila, Subic, Capinpin-Bataan, Batangas, Cebu and Davao, all scheduled for test runs within October.
Under the Port Management Office of Bataan/Aurora, the Port Capinpin quarantine facility
sits on a 1,271.6 square-meter area with a 124-bed capacity, 25 cubicles for high-risk cases separated by a Nursing Station. It was funded from a Php100-million donation of the Lopez Group of Companies.
GM Jay Daniel Santiago of the Ports Authority (PPA) expressed gratitude, even recalling the same donation funded a quarantine facility at Pier 15, South Harbor in Manila. Similar sentiment was shared by Bataan Governor Albert Garcia who was with his local officials.
Others include U/Sec for Defense Operations Cesar B. Yano, Transportation Security (OTS) Administrator Raul Del Rosario, DOTr U/Sec-Administrative Services and Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Representative Artemio Tuazon, Jr., ASec-Maritime Narciso Vingson, Jr., ASec-Communications, Commuter Affairs Goddes Hope Libiran and PMO Bataan/ Aurora Acting Port Manager Allan Rojo.
Earlier on October 5th, Santiago led the formal commissioning of the new South Harbor Molecular Laboratory for seafarers at the PPA GAD Center, Port Area, Manila. This RT-PCR laboratory tests 2,000 daily, with a 24 to 48-hour turnaround time for results.
The facility also provides a One-Stop-Shop to assist seafarers in their travel requirements, in identifying possible isolation facilities for mandatory quarantine until certificates are released.
Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Brigido J. Dulay announced starting September 7th, his department “will no longer issue endorsement letters for the entry/transit of foreign seafarers who will disembark for their repatriation, except for crew members whose vessels are already in the country before the said date.”
Disembarking foreign seafarers should already possess 9c Crew List visas, which may be obtained by the licensed manning agency (LMA), the ship’s agent or their authorized representative, on behalf of the foreign seafarers at Philippine Foreign Service Posts (FSPs).
Some observers believe the re-imposition of the 9C Crew List Visa of arriving vessels is ill-timed with the raging pandemic, more so for foreign off-signers who are not familiar with the process, has very limited time at the port, pushing them not to call anymore at the Philippines.
Eastmed Manning GM Edgardo Flores thinks this hard to comply with as the 9C imprints the visa on the passport which seafarers get only on arrival of their vessels. This would mean delay and extra expenses for the ship owners; pushing them to just call off from Philippine ports.
MARINO Party-list Representative Macnell Lusotan has requested the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to revisit its implementing guidelines on disembarking foreign seafarers as being counterproductive to the Philippines' ambition to be an international hub for crew change.
Lusotan cited Singapore and India that became lenient as to disembarkation of foreign nationals on their home turf. Singapore enhanced their crew change by considering compassionate grounds for allowing seafarers to disembark; India allowed disembarkation as long as the seafarer presents a temporary landing permit.
The lawmaker also believes the imposition of a valid 9(c) Philippine-issued visa upon arrival is impossible to comply with given that some ship owners decide to divert their ships to Philippine waters for crew change on abrupt notices.
Lusotan thinks when foreign seafarers disembark in the country, it opens employment opportunities to Filipino seafarers. If crew change occurs, Lusotan said it will be win-win for both the seafarer and the country’s economy.
He calculates for 90 ships per month to be diverted to our country by Japan’s IMMAJ, it will generate at least Php 67.9M in regulatory fees alone, helping our economy grapple with the effects of the COVID-19.
Some quarters disagree with Lusotan because other countries may follow suit. Filipino seafarers may then suffer as they are now the “foreigners” overseas.
The Philippines stand on feet of clay, given our testing processes are suspect; even PCG Commandant George V. Ursabia Jr. admits to about a thousand of them are infected, embarrassing the admiral since PCG handles health protocols at Pier 15.