Fate of Pinoy seafarers hang

    About 400 OFWs arrive at Clark International Airport last July. (File photo by the BCDA Group).

    Maritime executives are gearing Filipino seafarers in a post-new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) environment even as deployment has been made more difficult by travel restrictions and strict health protocols.

    Artemio Serafico, president and general mangaer of TSM Maritime Services Inc. , said as it is, there are 40,000 Filipino seafarers still stranded and awaiting crew change.

    However, with borders closed and flights limited, they cannot go home.

    “Disembarking crew members cannot stay in vessels,” Serafico said at a webinar hosted by TUV Rheinland recently.

    He said the International Maritime Organization agreed to proposals to classify seafarers as key workers so they can travel freely.

    But back home, some islands are still on strict quarantines, restricting travel.

    According to Serafico, the new normal means seafarers have to deal with a new way of obtaining training and document renewal processes which have moved online.

    Even getting pre-employment medical examinations now have to be scheduled.

    Serafico said seafarers have to take a COVID test prior to boarding.

    He said this is a challenge due to the limited number of laboratories in the country. Some countries have imposed very short validity days of the swab tests.

    Joel Maglungsod, executive director of the National Polytechnic, said the pandemic has prompted the need to take stock of the industry to brace itself and adequately sustain the human resource capability of the Philippines in the maritime transport.

    Maglungsod said the aim is to make seafarers return to work as soon as possible, citing the maritime industry’s play role in emergency response during the pandemic for the transport of vital commodities and products.

    He said with seafarers still have renew mandatory training certificates and maintain their competence through value-adding courses through blended learnings.

    Aniceto Bertiz III, deputy director-general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority said the agency has issued a circular that calls for both online and face-to-face classes, with the latter just 50 percent of capacity.

    Demonstration of equipment will also combine virtual training and laboratory setting particularly for the Technical-Vocational Education and Training

    Bertiz said an online platform has been launched where 68 online courses can be availed of for free.

    In the pipeline is a virtual assessment mechanism.

    At the forum, Tim Miller, managing director of Certif-ID, said block chain and automation technologies are being embraced in maritime but noted these bring opportunities for seafarers to upskill themselves.

    Dodging fears seafaring jobs will be lost, Miller said block chain in shipping is focused on transactions to bring out transparency and take out middle man. Automation intends to integrate all forms of documentation relevant for employment to optimize and simplify the process.

    “The supply chain, finances, verification of employment and records, that is the role (technology) play(s) in the industry,” Miller said.

    Twenty-five of the world’s fleet of the 1.5 million seafarers all over the world manning 50,000 merchant ships.

    The Philippines is the biggest supplier of ratings who account for more than half of the seafarers