Facing restrictions imposed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the country’s maritime industry, the Department of Transportation (DOTr), through its Maritime Sector, is now activating crew change hubs to address the global need for fresh crew of ships operated by around 1.5 million seafarers, 378,000 or 25% of which are Filipinos.

“This month alone, the DOTr maritime sector was able to open and activate three crew change hubs in the country. These are located at the Port of Manila, Port of Capinpin in Bataan, and today, at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. It is my hope for the Philippines to become a major international hub for crew change,” Secretary Tugade said.

On August 19, Port Capinpin in Bataan joined the Port of Manila as a crew change hub. Other ports for activation include Batangas, Davao, and Cebu.

Crew change is essential to ensure seafarers’ safety, health, welfare and employment as they can only serve on board a vessel without leave up to a maximum of 11 months based on International Labour Organization (ILO) 2006 Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).

The activation of crew change hubs will primarily benefit seafarers, recognized globally as key workers, who are stranded onboard ships with expired contracts due to travel restrictions aimed to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

“To guarantee that the health and safety of seafarers and the public are protected while we work on this endeavor, the DOTr and its attached agencies are activating hubs in close coordination with various government agencies and units involved in crew changes,” OIC-Assistant Secretary for Maritime Vice Admiral Narciso Vingson, Jr. said.

Today, August 22, the DOTr, through the Office for Transportation Security (OTS), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) also activated the Subic Bay Freeport Zone as a crew change hub. This is made possible after series of consultations with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and the local government of Zambales, Bataan and Olongapo City.

OTS Administrator and Head of the One-Stop Shop (OSS) Undersecretary Raul Del Rosario revealed that under IATF Resolution No. 53, Subic Bay is actually identified as one of the crew change hubs in the country.

“The strategic location of Subic Bay makes it ideal for crew changes due to its proximity to countries with high trading activities. The maritime industry in the area is also actively performing, with excellent port facilities and safe harbor to serve the needs of internationally-flagged vessels. Basically, Subic Bay can offer everything shipping principals are looking for in a crew change hub. We have also established the One-Stop Shop (OSS) to ensure that the health requirements are met,” Usec Del Rosario noted.

For his part, PCG Commandant Admiral George Ursabia Jr. said that the crew change hub abides by the established health and quarantine protocols of the Department of Health (DOH).

“The DOTr Team, composed of the Central Office, OTS, PCG and MARINA, has also been meeting with the DOH, Bureau of Immigration (BI), Bureau of Customs (BOC), Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and SBMA to ensure that the hub will conform with all requirements, especially health and safety protocols including quarantine procedures. To ensure the smooth flow of operations, we have conducted a dry run which was witnessed by the public,” PCG Admiral Ursabia Jr. said.

Meanwhile, MARINA Administrator Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad underscored the need to establish crew change hubs in the country especially now that there is a pandemic.

“This has been a significant cause of worry, as seafarers of all nationalities are already experiencing immense physical and mental fatigue brought on by overstaying onboard ships at sea. If this continues, delivery of essential cargo will be affected. Having crew change hubs in the country will solve this problem and give our seafarers the advantage of swift processing due to the established protocols,” Administrator Empedrad highlighted.

Aside from facilitating the transfer of stranded marine personnel off their vessels because of the pandemic, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) General Manager Jay Daniel Santiago likewise stated that crew change hubs in the country are also expected to generate economic activities and revenues in the areas where they are located, with the collection of port dues and charges from ship dockage or anchorage.

“By becoming a crew change capital of the world, we would not only prime up our seafaring and maritime industry. We also expect to boost our hospitality industry,” GM Santiago emphasized.

In the last four months, a total of 734 ships docked or anchored in the Port of Manila for the purposes of crew change. A total of 34,000 seafarers were served, wherein 28,000 seafarers disembarked while 5,800 joined the ships.
For ship turnaround, cargo ships usually stay for about 6 to 12 hours while cruise ships stay for a week up to a month if they serve as quarantine facilities.

“We can look forward to the same maritime traffic in other hubs as more foreign shipping principals are expected to patronize our ports for crew change. Aside from opening our ports for crew change, the Joint Circular for Green Lane for seafarers provide speedy movements of seafarers in our country. Three major shipping companies of Japan already bannered our green lane program in the conduct of crew change. We expect other flags to follow their lead,” GM Santiago added.