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37 crew changes at Subic hub in 2 months

Filipino seafarers leave the tugboat Jabbah, which transported them from their ship, the MV Dapeng Star, during the first crew-change operation in the Subic Bay Freeport on Thursday.

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—A total of 37 ships had successfully changed their crew in the Subic Bay Freeport in the last two months after the government activated its crew-change program here to enable stranded seafarers to either take badly needed rest or renew work aboard commercial vessels.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said more than 500 mostly Filipino seafarers had already benefited from program since Subic began operating as a crew-change hub last September 10.

The first crew change involved the arrival here of five Filipino seafarers who were stranded for about three months aboard MV Dapeng Star, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker based in Hong Kong.

Since then, One Stop Shop (OSS) Subic, the inter-agency task force, which manages the Subic crew-change operations, has recorded a total of 260 “off-signers,” or inbound ship crew, and 255 “on-signers,” or outbound seafarers, as of November 9.

Of the total 515 seafarers who either arrived or departed in Subic under the program, only 24—or 12 on-signers and 12 off-signers—were foreigners.

“Considering that around 80,000 Filipino seafarers with lapsed contracts are stranded aboard their ships, there is a lot to be done to ensure movement among seafarers, especially Filipinos, during this humanitarian and economic crisis,” Eisma noted.

She added that joining the program was “Subic’s direct response to President Duterte’s call that no one should be left behind in government efforts to ensure the safety of all Filipinos and provide assistance to vulnerable groups in face of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

According to the SBMA Seaport Department, ships of all shapes and sizes have arrived here under the crew-change program.

These included the following: MV RTM Cook, a Singapore-flagged bulk carrier that took in seven Filipino on-signers and disembarked11 off-signers; MV Mindoro, a Panama-flagged vehicles carrier with three outbound and two inbound Filipino crew; MT Jason, a chemical tanker from Marshall Islands with 12 Filipino on-signers and one Croatian and 13 Filipino off-signers; MT Euro Integrity, a Liberian-flagged crude oil tanker with 15 outbound and 16 inbound Filipino seafarers; and, MV Nine Eagle, a Panama-flagged livestock carrier with five on-signers and five off-signers, all Filipino.

SBMA Seaport Manager Jerome M. Martinez stressed that OSS-Subic has laid out strict health and safety protocols for the program, with all outbound and inbound seafarers undergoing RT-PCR testing.

“In case an on-signer tests positive, he is brought back point-to-point to Manila where he was swab-tested. Meanwhile, off-signers are brought directly to the Subic-OSS for swab testing; after which they are transported to an isolation facility in Manila,” Martinez explained.

He added that in the two months that crew-change has been undertaken in Subic, only one positive case among seafarers has been recorded.

The Port of Subic is just one of the designated crew-change hubs in the country. The others are the Port of Manila, the Port of Capinpin in Bataan, and the Port of Cebu. More crew-change hubs are being eyes in ports in Batangas and Davao, according to the Department of Transportation, which oversees the project.

Seafarers have been designated “key workers” by many countries, including the Philippines, which belong to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to enable them to travel to and from ships and ensure the operation of commercial vessels.

The IMO said that commercial ships now transport more than 80 percent of global trade by volume, including vital food and medicine, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods.

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