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OVER half million Filipino seafarers are working continuously around the world contributing to the economy some US$6.5 million, equivalent to P300 billion despite the pandemic, said Marino Party-List Rep. Macnell Lusotan.

Lusotan told Cebu Business Week that the Filipino seafarers are working in different international vessels, travelling in different countries, continuing the international trade.

The estimated remittance of seafarers has helped the government in preventing our economy from collapsing because of lockdowns caused by pandemic.

Lusotan said that statistics show that goods like computers, construction materials, among others cannot be brought to other countries through airplanes but through vessels.

“Ninety percent of our international trade passes through shipping. The role of the seafarers is to man ships. In 2019, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) estimated that all seafarers have earned a combined US$6.5 million or P300 billion at P50-$1 foreign exchange rate that has been added to the Philippine economy,” Lusotan said.

Seafarers with big income and having new families are mostly investing in the business of their choice or keep big savings in banks, and the banks are lending capital to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

Most Filipino seafarers abroad only problem is their failure to go home immediately because of travel ban. On the other hand, they are lucky because they are continuously working bringing goods to different countries.

Thousands of seafarers have extended their period of work because they cannot disembark from the vessel because of the travel ban. If they will force to go home to the Philippines, they will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine, and other health protocols.

The seafarers who are affected are those who are waiting to replace their counterparts who are on board vessels and who choose to extend their contract because of the pandemic.

If foreign vessels stop plying, Lusotan said there will be scarcity of supplies of essential goods around the world.

District Collector Charlito Martin Mendoza of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) Port of Cebu said that they are always above target collections despite the pandemic because importation of goods had continued.

“The operation in shipping is unhampered even if there is Covid-19 pandemic,” Lusotan said.

Lusotan said about that there are more than 3,000 seafarers who are waiting to be called to board the vessels, but because of the pandemic, they are stranded in Manila, some of whom are living with friends, and some are billeted in hotels. Their families are expecting that they are already on board.

He said that Marino Party-List, the government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Office of the Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are working together to extend help to stranded seafarers.

He said that in the data of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), there are more than two million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) around the world. The highest numbers of OFWs are in the Middle East. Of the two million, 25 percent or 500,000 are seafarers.

The traditional seafarers are those manning the ships. But now, seafarers include those working in cruise ships who are e cruise, Lusotan said the personnel are about 1,000, and the tourists that they are servicing are about 3,000. So, cruise ships stopped operating because of social distancing as one of the health protocols.

“At present, Marino Party-List is working to hold the repatriation of seafarers from various countries in Europe because of the new Covid variant. But this is temporary because we believe that in the coming days, the ban will be lifted,” Lusotan said.

The party-list representative said that with Rep. Zandro Gonzales, Marino Party-List is continuously helping seafarers who are affected by the pandemic. There are seafarers who are in the different international vessels wanting to go home but because of the travel ban, they remain in their workplace.