Heart ailments of seafarers

Column box-Dennis Gorecho

Time and again, the Supreme Court has held that cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, and other heart ailments of seafarers are work-related and, thus, compensable.

Seafarers have a higher rate of mortality, injuries, and illnesses than their counterparts ashore due to their particularly risky working conditions.

Seafarers have to brave storms, typhoons and high waves during the vessel’s journey, plus the sudden change of climate and temperature as the vessel crossed territories. 

The Court has ruled in several cases that heart ailments of seafarers can be triggered or aggravated by his working conditions aboard the vessel as they can be subjected to physical and mental stress and strain.

Under the POEA Standard Employment Contract, cardiovascular disease events that are considered as occupational illness include heart attack, chest pain (angina), heart failure or sudden death.

Other common cardiovascular diseases include coronary heart disease/ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular accident or stroke, and hypertension or elevated blood pressure.

A seafarer with heart illness may claim compensation if the following conditions are met: (a) when the heart disease was aggravated by reasons of the nature of the seafarer’s work, (b) the severity of the strain of the work may be sufficient and followed within 24 hours by clinical signs of cardiac insult, and (c) signs and symptoms of cardiac injury appeared during his work and the same persisted.

In most cases, the employer deny its liability for disability compensation by arguing that the seafarer failed to prove the causal connection between his heart disease and work aboard the vessel. They usually attribute his medical condition to poor lifestyle choices and health habits and was not indicative of work-relatedness.

In granting disability benefits, the Supreme Court acknowledged that seafarers working for companies for long period of time is normally saddled with heavy responsibilities relative to navigation of the vessel, ship safety and management of emergencies. (Magsaysay Mitsui v. Bengson, GR 198528, October 13, 2014)

One’s responsibilities may cause heavy burdens on a seafarer’s shoulders all these years, and certainly may have contributed to the development of his illness. Any kind of work or labor produces stress and strain normally result in wear and tear of the human body.

Notably, an overseas worker, having to ward off homesickness by reason of being physically separated from his family for the entire duration of his contract, bears a great degree of emotional strain while making an effort to perform his work well. The strain is even greater in the case of a seafarer who is constantly subjected to the perils of the sea while at work abroad and away from his family. (Fil-Pride Shipping v. Balasta GR 193047, March 3, 2014)

A seafarer normally spends much of his productive years with the company under several employment contracts that were continuously renewed. His years of service certainly will take a toll on his body, and he could not have contracted his illness elsewhere except while working for the company.

In Oscar Paringit v. Global Gateway Crewing (GR 217123, March 28, 2019), the Court awarded disability benefits as it attributed to the seafarer’s diet the heart diseases he suffered. The fats and chemicals in frozen and preserved meats congested his arteries.

A 2007 study on seafarers on board German-flagged vessels (Oldenburg, Jensen, Latza, Baur) published in International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health site concluded that engine room officers and galley/operating staff working onboard with longer job duration at sea are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

A study by Sagaro, Anegloni et al, published in 2022 in Medical Sciences Forum site found that non-officers (engine and deck crew) on board an Italian-flagged ship were more frequently diagnosed with cardiovascular disease than officers. 

The study noted that out of the estimated 4,298 seafarers who requested medical advice from 2010 to 2021, Filipinos ranked third based on nationality at 21.1 percent, along with Italians (36.5 percent), Indians (35 percent), Chinese (3.4 percent), and Romanians (3.2 percent).

Out of 342 seafarers with cardiovascular disease, 40 percent were officers (deck officers and engine officers), while 60 percent were non-officers. The mean age of seafarers with cardiovascular disease was 42.51 years.

Companies will no longer hire a seafarer  with medical conditions, especially the high risk of having heart failure or stroke in the future.

From the business point of view, re-employment will be risky since the harsh working environment might only aggravate his fragile condition and in the end expose the company to more serious insurance liabilities.

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.


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