Unions And Employers Partner To Ensure Seafarers From Philippines Are ‘COVID-Free’
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) have launched an enhanced quarantine and testing program in Manila, with the aim of getting more Filipino seafarers to-and-from ships amidst a global crew change crisis by addressing the concerns governments have in regard to minimizing the spread of the pandemic.
Launched on 28 October, the program consists of:
- 300 secure isolation rooms contracted at two hotels from reputable hotel chains in Manila;
- 24/7 security and monitoring to ensure 14-day quarantine;
- arrival and pre-embarkation gold-standard PCR testing of seafarers;
- secure certification of test results using blockchain tamper-proof technology;
- secure transit to airports in groups no more than five (including the driver);
- seeking partnership with governments and their immigration and port authorities to recognize test result certificates, to reduce unnecessary quarantining time, and improve the volume of a crew change.
The facilities and process will be audited by independent 3rd party auditors before being admitted to the so-called “WHITE LIST” and subjected to regular periodical audit to ensure continued compliance.
ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton said the program was about unions and employers working together to provide solutions in a ‘Covid world’.
“The reality is that this virus is with us for the time being. As long as there is no vaccine, all of us must work together to get seafarers safely to and from ships on a much larger scale than we’re seeing right now.”
“For safety and environmental reasons, you can’t leave a ship docked in a harbor without a crew. You’ve got to have ‘joiners’ lined up before crew can leave a ship.”
“In our opinion, this system provides the safest way to get replacement crew quickly to the ships so that seafarers who have been on board for far too long can exercise their right to return home. It’s much safer and more efficient if a country has proof that a seafarer has been in managed and monitored isolation and has tested negative twice to let them in; rather than requiring them to quarantine when they arrive.”
“With months of too little action from so many governments to resolve the crew change crisis that mainly is of their making; it falls to workers, their unions and employers to come up with practical solutions like this to help get seafarers off these floating prisons and refreshed by those eager to back to work and earning again,” said Cotton.
The program is supported by ITF maritime affiliates in the Philippines AMOSUP and PSU. It is made possible due to a grant for “seed money” from the AMOSUP International Maritime Training Fund. The fund can only support the welfare of Filipino seafarers.
IMEC Chair Capt. Belal Ahmed said the program came together initially after employers and unions understood that more practical solutions were needed that addressed concerns raised by a number of crew change hubs over the authenticity of Covid negative tests obtained in the Philippines and over the efficacy of pre-embarkation quarantine processes used by seafarers looking to join ships.
“We felt there had to be a technology and process solution to be able to say to countries: ‘the seafarer has done their quarantine in a managed and monitored environment, here is their negative test: now please let them get on with their job’. This new program means we will be able to say that with confidence.”
“We have had input from software developers who have provided blockchain technology to make the Covid PCR test result certificates tamper-proof,” Ahmed said, ”the quarantine facility follows strict guidelines under Singapore’s SHN (Stay Home Notice) rules. This is fundamental to ensure the crew remains COVID-19 free for at least 14 days before they join the ship.”
For now, the program and places at its facilities are only open to IMEC members.
“We are going to see in the next few weeks how this process goes. When we see the results that we want to see, we will look to scale it up to help more seafarers change over.”
“I hope this serves as a model for how things can be done. This kind of innovation is so important for ending this humanitarian crisis,” said Ahmed.
The project is also cooperating with a similar program set up by the Norwegian Shipowners Association that was launched at the beginning of the month and which utilizes the same hotel.