Strengthening its commitment to make the Philippines an international crew change hub, the Department of Transportation (DOTr), through its maritime sector, conducted the first crew change operations outside Metro Manila at Port Capinpin in Orion, Bataan today, 5 September 2020.

This, after all operational requirements for the location, such as the establishment of a One-Stop Shop (OSS), RT-PCR testing booths, quarantine facilities, anchorage, application and Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine (CIQ) procedures, and tugboats were finalized and approved.

According to Office for Transportation Security (OTS) Administrator and OSS Head, Undersecretary Raul Del Rosario, it took more than a month to establish the OSS in Port Capinpin.

“To be exact, 1 month and 1 week bago natin na-put up ang OSS dito sa Orion. Kinailangan kasi nating i-match ang mga protocols na ipapatupad natin sa One-Stop Shop doon sa mga protocols ng Bataan Provincial IATF. Ang role ng One-Stop Shop ay iipun-ipunin ang concerned agencies sa crew change protocol. Kasama na d’yan ang mga agencies under the DOTr— Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), OTS, MARINA, at ‘yung ibang agencies na ka-partner natin gaya ng Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Quarantine, Bureau of Immigration, OWWA at PNP, at ang LGU na talagang nagbabantay para sa prevention ng COVID,” Usec Del Rosario said.

Port Capinpin, a port being operated and managed by the PPA, was activated as a crew change hub on August 19.

The activation of crew change hubs was directed by DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade to help address the global need for fresh crew of ships, and to ensure the health, safety, welfare and employment of seafarers as they can only serve on board a vessel without leave up to 11 months based on International Labour Organization (ILO) 2006 Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). This will primarily benefit seafarers, who are stranded onboard ships with expired contracts due to imposed travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

Strict protocols and procedures were set by the OSS to ensure the smooth implementation of crew change operations. Prior to embarkation, seafarers are required to undergo RT-PCR testing 72 hours before boarding. After getting a negative result, they will be subjected to physical examination by the BOQ, as well as Customs and Immigration procedures. Upon obtaining clearance, they will be sent to the vessel where they will receive handover of duties from off signees. On the other hand, off signing seafarers are required to undergo CIQ procedures onboard vessel. Once fully cleared by authorities, they will be sent to the port for disembarkation, debriefing, RT-PCR testing and quarantine.

To further help seafarers, PPA General Manager Jay Santiago said that the PPA is currently constructing a 100-bed quarantine facility at Port Capinpin, which may be used by seafarers waiting for the result of their COVID-19 test.

“We are now constructing a 100-bed quarantine facility that can be used by our seafarers waiting for their RT-PCR results. Accommodation is for free. This facility will be completed in less than a month. Funds used to construct this facility is part of the PhP100-million donation from the Lopez Group of companies,” PPA GM Santiago said.

Meanwhile, according to DOTr OIC-Assistant Secretary for Maritime Vice Admiral Narciso Vingson Jr., aside from the OSS, the Covid-19 Molecular Laboratory at the Port of Manila has also been completed, and is now just awaiting accreditation/license from the Department of Health (DOH). This molecular laboratory can service the requirements of the Port of Capinpin, and can release testing results in 24-48 hours.

“Ang crew change hub operations natin ay napakaganda kasi kumpleto na siya. Ang PPA nag-put up din ng sariling molecular lab na kaya mag-test ng 2,000 samples. That’s not exclusive to seafarers. They can also open it to walk-ins. We can release the results within 24 to 48 hours, depende sa volume of samples,” Asec Vingson said.

In August, a total of three crew change hubs were activated by the DOTr, which are located at the Port of Manila, Port of Capinpin, and at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Other ports for activation include Batangas, Davao, and Cebu.

Prior to activation, prospective crew change hubs are required to establish a one-stop-shop to process the crew change, that includes health screening (swab testing). The location must have sufficient and appropriate quarantine facility and CIQ facilities and established procedures.

Also present during the event are PPA PMO Aurora/Bataan Project Manager Allan Rojo, PCG Bataan Station Commander Larry Cendaña, MARINA-METSS Capt. Vicente Navarro, BOQ Bataan Station Chief Dr. Emmanuel Sto. Domingo, and the respective representatives from the Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, the Local Government of Bataan, Local Manning Agencies (LMAs) and shipping agents.