Stranded Pinoy seafarers excited to be back at sea

By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Feb 22 2013 12:55 PM | Updated as of Feb 22 2013 08:55 PM

Filipinos make up the majority of crew on Saga Ruby

SOUTHAMPTON - The crew of a cruise ship stranded in England for repairs are excited for their long-awaited return to sea.

Saga Ruby has been anchored at the port of Southampton since January 7, after it cancelled its world cruise just hours before its scheduled departure due to problems with its engine.

Saga Ruby is travelling the world from England to Brazil

The 40-year-old ship carries a 380-strong crew, 80% of whom are Filipinos.

“We cleaned the whole ship. We worked extra hard to maintain the standard of the ship while we’re waiting,” said Tomas Reyes III, a 43-year-old crew steward who hails from Pangasinan.

Speaking to ABS-CBN Europe on board the ship shortly before its return to sea, the seasoned seafarer said: “We are happy that she is now fixed. We can finally continue traveling around the world.”

The ship, officially registered in Malta, was delayed in the UK for approximately six weeks for the repairs, which had an inevitable impact on the crew’s time and finances.

Crew steward Tomas Reyes is responsible for the staff onboard

"I realized it’s hard to be land-based," said Robert Urcia, a 36-year-old waiter on board with nine years’ experience at sea. "It can get boring to stay in one place. Unlike for seafarers, one day you’re in this country, and the day after you’re in a different world."

The Batangas native said there’s a lot of crew activities happening on board. "We have professional performers doing shows for us. We have a crew bar where we can spend time. We have crew bingo, darts and other indoor games."

Waiters onboard are happy to return to sea for the extra tips from passengers

For Jay Sulit, a 33-year-old waiter on the ship, the delay was a bittersweet experience.

He explained: “It’s sad because it reduced our income. If there were passengers on board, we could have earned some extra money from tips. But I’m also happy because the delay gave us a chance to explore the local area and relax a bit.”

While in Southampton, a seaside city in southern England, the crew took advantage of the local cites and services, including shops and churches. Some even made a trip to London, the British capital roughly two hours away.

“We bought SIM cards so we can talk to our families. And we explored Southampton, especially the shops, until we ran out of money,” joked Reyes, who has been a seafarer for over a decade.

Others found solace from the land-based Filipino community, meeting local residents and attending church services by a local Filipino priest.

“We would sometimes roam in the local area and we managed to meet some Filipino friends who are local residents,” recalled Marcelino Padilla III, a 37-year-old waiter and magician onboard.

The Iloilo-native also added: “We are grateful to them, for their efforts, because they helped us mentally and spiritually.”

The mariners admitted that life at sea can be tough, especially at the beginning, being away from friends and families, as well as facing the occasional rough seas.

Despite this, however, many seem to have found comfort with life at sea, and after over a month stranded at bay, the crew seemed excited and more than ready to return to sea.

“I’m happy, and I’m fully adjusted. I don’t feel homesick anymore,” said Padilla, who has been a seafarer since 2003.

Urcia also said: “It’s fun. We meet different kinds of people from different cultures. And we actually travel around the world for free, and you earn money for your family and yourself.”

Most of the Filipino crew are under short-term contracts of 4-6 months, including an allotment agreement that stipulates 80% of their earnings will be sent directly to their families in the Philippines.

“We’re all excited to be back on business. This is our bread and butter, and we have been praying for the ship to be fixed soon, and now its done.”

Saga Ruby was scheduled to leave Southampton on February 20, commencing her penultimate voyage from Europe to South America.

Built in 1973, she is due to retire on January 2014 after a farewell cruise to the Caribbean.