Filipino seafarers get a closer shot at getting vaccines against COVID-19 as the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approves the recommendation of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to include them in the priority recipients listed in the government’s national vaccination rollout.
*“This is a very good development for our maritime industry champions— our seafarers. Now, our Filipino seafarers will be given priority to be vaccinated. Paulit-ulit ko pong inilalarawan ang ating maritime workforce bilang mga silent workers ng bayan. They work silently, yet their contribution is as crucial as keeping the economy thriving. Not only are they frontliners, but they are undoubtedly HEROES, too,”* DOTr Secretary Arthur P. Tugade expressed.
DOTr OIC Assistant Secretary for Maritime VADM Narciso Vingson Jr., who also chairs the Inter-Agency Working Group tasked to firm up the DOTr’s proposal on the priority vaccination of Filipino seafarers in recognition of the vital role they play amid the present global crisis, presented the proposal and justification in a meeting with the IATF.
*“The working group is in the unified position to push for the prioritization of Filipino seafarers in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program to secure their employment, and to ensure the safe shipping operations of essential goods amid the pandemic,”* Asec. Vingson said.
Aside from DOTr, the working group is composed of officials from the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ), and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) through its Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office (MOAO). It also represents the local Licensed Manning Agencies through the membership of the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA), Joint Manning Group (JMG), Filipino Association for Mariner’s Employment (FAME), and the Philippine Association of Manning Agencies and Ship Managers (PAMAS).
From falling under B3 (Other essential workers) or B5 (Overseas Filipino Workers) in the Vaccination Priority Framework, the Inter-Agency Working Group has requested for the reclassification of Filipino seafarers to A4 (Frontline personnel in essential sectors, including uniformed personnel and those in working sectors identified by the IATF as essential during ECQ). This makes seafarers move at the top 4 priority groups to be vaccinated.
With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, the IATF has adopted early this year the prioritization framework and criteria of the national immunization rollout to allocate the first tranches of vaccines given its limited global supply.
Furthermore, the prioritization of seafarers in the vaccination is based on the following grounds: Filipino seafarers are declared key workers globally and locally; Filipino seafarers are considered mobile, who, as part of their jobs, frequently enter various ports across the world; and shipping companies prefer their workforce to be vaccinated to ensure that their operations will remain smooth, unhampered, and somehow immune to the severe effects of COVID-19.
To further determine the specific population to be prioritized, the Working Group classified seafarers into two. Top priority will be given to active seafarers or those with recorded sea service within the last three (3) years, while new seafarers or those with last recorded sea service beyond 2018 shall be ranked second.
Per MARINA and POEA data, there are a total of 549,000 active seafarers registered in their system, wherein around 497,000 are those deployed overseas and 51,000 are serving locally. Meanwhile, a total of 181,000 seafarers are without updated sea service within the last three (3) years.
In summary, there are 730,651 Filipino seafarers who are for consideration in the A4 category.