MANILA – Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Art Tugade has directed the DOTr Maritime Sector, consisting of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), to investigate the lapses that led to the incident surrounding COVID-stricken RoRo vessel MV Saint Anthony de Padua, which was previously plying the Caticlan-Batangas route.

Last 07 August 2021, it was discovered that 25 seafarers on board the vessel MV Saint Anthony de Padua have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. This is in addition to the three (3) infected crew members who disembarked from the ship earlier last 01 August and 05 August 2021 at Port of Batangas, without securing a permit from the PPA. Although they have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, the vessel’s shipping company only informed the PCG and PPA about the three (3) seafarers days after they left the ship. Currently, they remain confined but are in stable condition.

The preliminary investigation also suggested that MV Saint Anthony de Padua continued to transport passengers despite the indications of COVID-19 infections among its crew members on board the ship. Moreover, the 433 passengers on board the ship during 01 to 04 August may now have indirect or direct exposure to the disease. As part of standard protocol, these passengers are being subjected to a rigorous contact-tracing process.

The said incident led to the issuance of a Show Cause Order to the shipping company by the PPA Port Management Office (PMO) – Batangas on 11 August 2021.

Furthermore, citing MARINA Advisory No. 2020-86, which states that “it is the obligation of the shipowner and ship master to immediately inform the health authority and the MARINA at the next port of call about any suspected case of COVID-19,” as well as the Ship Survey System (3S) Manual, Chapter II.5.2, promulgating Safety Certificate of a vessel shall be suspended if “a major deficiency relative to the safe operation of the ship is uncovered,” and Chapter VII 2.5.1.d, providing that “non-compliance with the Minimum Safe Manning Level,” the MARINA Regional Office IV (MRO 4) has issued a suspension order of the vessel’s Passenger Safety Certificate until the PCG and Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) have issued their clearances.

Presently, a dedicated medical team has been hired by the shipping company to board the vessel and monitor the conditions of the 25 infected seafarers. Although most crew members have been reported to be asymptomatic, nurses and marshals from the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) are also on stand-by if there is a sudden need to evacuate any of the seafarers onboard the vessel. Meanwhile, those seafarers who tested negative for COVID-19 also remain on board until they are given clearance by the BOQ.

The PPA will continue to monitor the port needs and operations of the said vessel, as well as ensure the centralized movements in the Batangas port. Meanwhile, the PCG will be in charge of the continuous 24/7 seaborne patrol to ensure the security within the perimeter where the vessel is currently anchored.

The country’s maritime transport authorities call on the riding public to report shipping companies and non-compliant vessels that are found to be violating the established health protocols of the national government. This is to maintain the safety of both the sea riding public and vessel crew amid the pandemic.