The Philippines on Thursday signed the joint circular on the guidelines for the establishment of the Philippine green lane to facilitate the speedy and safe travel of its seafarers, including their safe and swift disembarkation and crew change amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the joint circular will serve as guide for seafarers, licensed manning agencies, shipping companies, airlines, and other entities involved in facilitating the travel of seafarers for purposes of crew change and repatriation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It sets the minimum standards and process flows for each applicable scenario that all stakeholders should follow to facilitate the speedy and safe conduct of crew change and repatriation, the ministry added.
The Philippines is considered as the major supplier of maritime labor globally. According to government data, over 400,000 Filipino sailors serve on bulk carriers, container ships, oil, gas, chemical and other product tankers, general cargo ships, pure car carriers, cruise ships and tugboats around the world.
The Philippines came up with the framework in response to the request of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for governments to keep shipping and supply chains open and grant special travel exemptions to seafarers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a circular letter issued on March 30, the IMO called on governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationalities, as “key workers” who provide an essential service.
Referring to the issue of crew changes, the IMO said professional seafarers and marine personnel should be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions to allow them to join or leave ships.
The IMO added that governments should permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory like an airport to allow crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.
Robert Empedrad, head of the Maritime Industry Authority of the Department of Transportation, has said around 100,000 such ships carry almost 95 percent of the world trade. These ships are operated by close to 1.5 million seafarers; 378,000 of which are Filipinos, he added.
The pandemic has displaced thousands of overseas Filipino workers, including seafarers. As of June 17, the DFA said more than 60,000 overseas Filipinos, both sea-based and land-based, have been repatriated since February.