CRUISE. A cruise ship off Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, Leyte. An official of a manning agency defended the alleged isolation of more than 400 seafarers in Metro Manila hotels since October, noting that mitigating issues caused delays and extended their quarantine. (Contributed photo)

MANILA – An official of a manning agency, accused of holding over 400 seafarers in hotels within the city for about two months, said it was merely following government policies introduced during the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Miguel Rocha, CF Sharp Crew Management Inc. president and chief executive officer, said that aside from complying with government-mandated requirements, some seafarers who began staying in hotels at the end of October were further delayed by typhoons, Covid-19 infections among the crew, and other mitigating issues.

“We advised all of the crew that because somebody managed to get infected in the process that there are going to be new dates. Anybody who does not wish to stay can go home but they just need to resign their position and wait for their future lineup,” Rocha said.

Rocha said while these seafarers were required to isolate themselves in hotels paid for by the agency and its shipping partners, those who got infected may have snuck out, emphasizing that their crew was not being "imprisoned".

“There's nobody guarding them, they make it sound like they're in prison. Nobody is trying to imprison anybody. We are simply trying to comply with the Philippine government's regulations regarding deployment protocols,” Rocha said.

He said the ships that the seafarers were supposed to board in November—the Norwegian Escape and the Norwegian Joy—were further delayed by the typhoons that hit Metro Manila and several parts of the country.

“You have to wait for the typhoon to pass and then you have to bring the ship back in, and now two days have passed and the Covid-19 testing they did before is no longer valid and they all have to be tested again,” Rocha said.

Aside from these two factors, he said it was also the first time the manning agency attempted to deploy “thousands of crew onto a cruise ship in Manila Bay”.

This, after 1PACMAN Rep. Enrico Pineda, last week accused the agency of “quarantine overkill” for holding more than 400 seafarers in “solitary confinement” in two Metro Manila hotels for the past two months.

He protested the extended stay of the seafarers at the Savoy and Heritage hotels and called for the government to look into the complaints aired by their relatives.

Rocha said the seafarers were not being held against their will, noting that it would have been “cruel” and would risk possible infection to release the seafarers in Metro Manila without money during the delays, with some hailing from distant provinces.

“Instead, we continued to pay for the room and board of all these people at four-star luxury accommodations with more than three meals a day with snacks and everything that they could need—WiFi, TV, everything—so that they could be comfortable and safe,” Rocha said.

Pineda also accused the agency of not providing an allowance to their seafarers during their extended stay in hotels.

In response, Rocha said that a seafarers’ contract is not yet engaged until their actual deployment, noting that their quarantine in hotels is merely part of the pre-deployment process where they fulfill various “documentary and statutory requirements”.

“There's no contractual engagement. They are in the process of getting fit to join and qualified and certified and to be able to be deployed,” Rocha said.

Seafarers, during the pre-deployment process, are not yet “employed” but are still provided with free room and board, Rocha said.

In a separate phone interview, United Filipino Seafarers president, Engr. Nelson Ramirez doubted that the complaints stemming from the extended stay of seafarers were coming from those in the hotels or their families.

“Nasisiguro ako na hindi 'yung mga nasa hotel ang nagre-reklamo diyan. At hindi rin nila sinasabi na pamilya 'yung nagreklamo. Dahil meron silang crew na nasa hotel at lumabas. Naglamyerda sa Mall of Asia (MOA). At dahil lumabas sila, ayaw ng CF Sharp na mahawaan nila yung mga kasamahan nila (I’m sure that it is not those staying in the hotels that are complaining. And it’s not their families. Some seafarers were inside the hotels went out. They went to MOA. And because they went out, CF Sharp does not want them to infect their colleagues),” Ramirez said.

He said that such quarantine protocols were required not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well. (PNA)