Press Release
August 22, 2020

Villanueva urges reopening of more airports and seaports for faster seafarers' movement, avert a two-year deployment drought

A two-year drought in deployment of Filipino seafarers looms large on the horizon unless the government makes drastic interventions such as the reopening of more airports and seaports to expedite the movement of Filipino seafarers while minimizing their risk of being infected of COVID-19, according to Senator Joel Villanueva.

When the Senate labor committee resumes its public inquiry on Tuesday, Aug. 25, Villanueva emphasizing that the seafarers have been the consistent driver of overseas remittances, said he would look into resolving the issues concerning the seafarer industry, which has been unwittingly affected by the movement restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Villanueva asked the government to help address the crew change problem of the 460,000-strong sector fast otherwise "we will lose by default to seafarers from other countries."

"Dahil po sa limitadong pagbyahe at iba pang mga pagbabawal sa transportasyon, pahirapan po maka-alis ang ating mga seafarer para palitan ang mga kasamahan nila na kasalukuyang naglalayag, at hirap din makauwi sa kanilang pamilya ang mga bumaba sa kanilang barko. Kailangan po ng mga barko na magsagawa ng crew change para masigurong patuloy ang kanilang operasyon ng maayos at makapag-pahinga ang ating mga seafarer," Villanueva said in a statement.

"As policymakers, we should look into their concerns and introduce legislation that would address these. We will work for common grounds to help our seafarers without flouting the regulations intended to prevent the further spread of COVID-19," added the lawmaker, who chairs the Senate labor committee.

Villanueva said his office received reports that shipowners and international manning agencies are looking for alternatives to Filipino crew due to difficulties in Philippine crew change process. Other countries deploying seafarers such as Ukraine and India could stand to gain in the country's failure to deploy its seafarers, and it could trigger a two-year drought in deployment in the short term, according to the lawmaker.

Noting that the Philippines enjoyed a good standing in the international shipping industry for many decades now, Villanueva said the Filipino seafarers make up over 25 percent of the over 1.5 million seafarers worldwide enabling some 90 percent of the global trade by sea.

"Our seafarers play a vital role in both the national and global economy, contributing close to US$7 billion in inward annual remittances to the country," Villanueva said. "In 2017, Filipino seafarers contributed US$5.87 billion in remittances, up by 21.4 percent from US$4.84 billion in 2012," he added.

The closure of borders and limited movement around the world prevented seafarers from traveling between countries where their ships are anchored, and their countries of residence, he added.

In the previous hearing of the Senate labor committee, Villanueva sought for the equal treatment of land-based and sea-based workers in terms of repatriation and quarantine assistance from the government.

Manning agencies had raised concern over the policy enforced by labor authorities mandating them to foot the entire cost of quarantine, including testing, lodging and transportation, of their seafarers, while the same needs of land-based workers are attended to by the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration.

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