With the COVID-19 pandemic putting various industries worldwide at a standstill, the seafaring industry has also been significantly affected. The presence of the highly contagious virus in several countries around the world has made traveling safely by boat very difficult. There are even cruise ships that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks while at sea. This is the reason why the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has announced that in the next three weeks, they will be repatriating the seafarers that have been displaced due to this health crisis.
Over 4,000 cruise ship workers are set to be repatriated amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Ships such as the Costa Magica, Costa Favolosa, and Costa Luminosa have around 1,000 Filipino crew members between them. The first two ships were refused to dock in Florida to avoid spreading the virus through its potentially infected passengers. The latter ship in contrast has docked in Savonna, Italy, with the crew members on their way to be sent back to the Philippines.
But these vessels are just some of the many that have Filipino workers part of their crew, as there are more coming in the next few weeks. These seafarers shall be flown in from the countries their ships are docked at to Manila.
As part of the efforts taken, the DFA, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Department of Tourism (DOT) have been looking for accommodation such as hotels and motels for the repatriated crew members. This is where they will stay so they can fulfill their 14-day quarantine. This is in accordance with Resolution 14 by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
The first batch of Filipino seafarers, nearly 400 in total, arrived last March 28 via chartered flights. They were taken to a hotel located in Pasig City.
These efforts would not have been possible if not for the mentioned government bodies above, as well as the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Transportation (DOTr), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Shipping companies also contributed in ensuring the crew are brought back home safely and efficiently.
Still, challenges remain in the process. Teodoro “Teddy” Locsin Jr., Secretary of Foreign Affairs, expressed the difficulties of looking for the proper accommodation for these crew members on his Twitter account. He cited the approval process of both the list of potential accommodations and the rooms as fit for isolation as factors that pose a challenge to these measures.
Overall, such lengths are being taken due to the need to get our fellow Filipinos to safety and making sure they get the best care possible, whether they have COVID-19 or not. More seafarers from these vessels are expected to arrive in the coming weeks for proper procedures and quarantine to flatten the curve of the virus.