MANILA –The Philippines and the Netherlands, strengthened anew their ties of understanding, cooperation, international exchange, and trade especially in the field of maritime transport during the 21st Joint Committee on Maritime Affairs (JCMA) Virtual meeting, which was conducted on 29 April 2021. MARINA Administrator Robert A Empedrad led the Philippine delegation while his counterpart, Mr. Paul van Gurp from the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (MinlenW) headed the Dutch delegation.

The 21st JCMA served as an avenue for both the Philippines and the Netherlands to convene on the state of maritime affairs in both of the nations and the specific practices adopted in light of the circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With MARINA, the Philippine delegation was composed of officials from the Department of Transportation (DOTr), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Palompon Institute of Technology (PIT) and other government and private sector representatives. For the Netherlands, next to MinIenW, present were representatives from the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR), the Scheepvaart en Transport College (STC) and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The Philippines’ Department of Transportation (DOTR) Assistant Secretary for Maritime Narciso A Vingson prompted the discussion of the measures taken for crew change and the vaccination of Filipino seafarers, which are central components in ensuring continued employment of seafarers and unhindered flow of essential goods.

“As a major supplier of maritime workforce to the international fleet, the Philippines, through the DOTr, recognized its role in ensuring crew change amid the pandemic so as to facilitate the continuous trade flow and most importantly, the delivery of essential goods such as medical supplies and equipment. Taking also into consideration how competence is superseded by health requirements, the preferred vaccination of Filipino seafarers shall guarantee their employment in international vessels as well as the safe transport of vaccines, medical supplies, and other important goods,” Asec. Vingson emphasized during his presentation.

In line with this, Mr. van Gurp of the Netherlands Delegation shared that “In good cooperation between the Philippines and the Netherlands in taking care of seafarers working on board of our ships, an estimated 22,000 seafarers from the Philippines will get vaccinated. It is of utmost importance to make sure seafarers are vaccinated timely, since otherwise they could encounter travel restrictions again when in due time vaccination is required when travelling”

Meanwhile, both countries discussed areas of mutual interest in the maritime industry. Several officials from the MARINA were tasked to discuss matters including updates regarding the European Maritime Safety Agency’s (EMSA) findings, and the state of maritime training and education amidst the restrictions caused by the ongoing pandemic.

As head of the Philippine delegation, Administrator Empedrad expressed his appreciation for the active roles that both nations played in tackling pressing issues in the maritime industry over the course of more than two decades. “I hope that all of us will share the same passion in working towards the continued development of the maritime study and advancement of the competitiveness and welfare of our seafarers,” he said during his opening remarks.

Mr. van Gurp of the Netherlands Delegation, on the other hand, expressed that “In order to take care of seafarers working on board of our ships and to minimize the impact of Covid-19 on seafarers of the Philippines, the importance of extensive cooperation between the Philippines and the Netherlands became increasingly clear again. We as the Netherlands most importantly hope that our excellent cooperation with the Philippines continues. Moving forward together and upholding this special bilateral relationship will contribute to the wealth and interests of the shipping sector and our two countries.”

Despite the restraints posed by the JCMA Virtual Meeting, both delegations expressed satisfaction on the positive and constructive exchanges in the virtual meeting which focused on concerns regarding compliance to the STCW’78 as amended; the welfare of seafarers and training of cadets in view of the prevailing COVID situation; and IMO cooperation. The JCMA fostered productive discussions between the Philippines and Netherlands that would further solidify the ties of the two countries. At the end of the meeting, the participating countries agreed to hold the 22nd JCMA meeting in Manila and were tasked to provide updates until then.