1 OCTOBER 2020 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In observance of National Seafarers’ Day and Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Washington, D.C. (POLO-WDC) held two webinars on 12 and 19 September discussing the process of recruitment and deployment of seafarers as well as their rights and benefits under Philippine and international laws and conventions. 

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Director for Sea-based Workers  Augusto San Diego III appealed to the seafarers and their families to immediately report to POEA the violations committed by local manning agencies and their employers, including the charging of excessive recruitment or placement fees, to ensure that the violators are sanctioned accordingly.

Ambassador Gilbert Asuque, who is a former Philippine Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), noted  that in the time of pandemic, as the contracts of seafarers on board need to be extended even beyond the maximum allowable period of 17 months , they are facing fatigue and mental health issues. In response, the IMO has called on all governments to immediately recognized seafarers as key workers, and to take swift and effective action to eliminate obstacles to crew changes to address the humanitarian crisis faced by the shipping sector.  

In his welcome remarks, Philippine Ambassador to the United States and several Caribbean territories Jose Manuel Romualdez said, “Since March, the Philippine Embassy, through its Consular Section and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, facilitated the repatriation of more than fifteen thousand seafarers stranded in the different ports in Florida and some parts of the Caribbean Islands. This could not have been realized without the cooperation of the U.S. Government and its agencies as well as the governments in the Caribbean.” 

Around 300, 000 Filipino seafarers reportedly could not be repatriated, and an equal number of seafarers ashore are unemployed because they are unable to board ships.

Atty. Dennis Gorecho gave a presentation on the rights of seafarers under Philippine and international laws as well as legal remedies in cases of labor or contractual rights violations. 

One of the webinars also featured the services of the internationally renowned Apostleship of the Seas (AOS), which has been instrumental in providing the immediate needs of Filipino seafarers stranded in the ports of Florida. AOS states that there are different levels of assistance that seafarers can avail themselves of and that AOS itself has mobilized not only local resources, including the local port, but also national and international networks for its services. 

The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) likewise provided updates under the “new normal”, including the improvement of MISMO or the Marina Integrated Seafarers Management System through which seafarers can now transact with MARINA, including the renewal of their certification online.

POLO-WDC regularly organizes virtual dialogues with overseas Filipino workers and stakeholders in its jurisdiction pursuant to its mandate to ensure workers’ rights and protection. Ambassador Romualdez emphasized, “The Philippine Government recognizes the important role of overseas Filipino workers in our national development. You are truly modern-day heroes who have made immeasurable sacrifices and contributions to the Philippine economy. It is now our turn to show our appreciation for all of your efforts. In your time of need, rest assured that the Philippine Embassy stands ready to provide you and your families the necessary support and assistance.” 

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Ambassador Gilbert Asuque, former Philippine Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is one of the resources persons in POLO-WDC’s webinar for seafarers held on 19 September 2020.