MANILA (UPDATE)—The Philippine Ambassador to Budapest, Frank Cimafranca, called on the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and manpower agencies to spend for the evacuation of Filipino seafarers in Ukraine.
“The welfare and safety of the seafarers are their primary responsibility. I would like to appeal to them to help out and shoulder the costs of extracting our seafarers to safety,” Cimafranca said during the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs hearing on Tuesday.
Based on latest DOLE figures on sea-based OFWs in Ukraine, 146 seafarers were still onboard their vessels but 49 of them have been evacuated while 277 were repatriated.
Cimafranca argued extracting seafarers from war-torn areas “entails costs”.
“Our honorary consul in Moldova, which is instrumental in helping in the evacuation and extraction of our seafarers, is still trying to find ways to assist in the evacuation of the remaining Filipino seafarers trapped in that area,” he said.
“He has been doing this with the help of manning agencies and ship owners but unfortunately some of them are making the requests but are not willing to spend for the evacuation. Just transporting them out of the area would already entail costs.”
Evacuation of seafarers remained a top priority, the ambassador said, especially with vessels trapped in ports and are unable to move due to mines installed in channels and intentionally sunken vessels set up by Ukrainian forces to serve as barriers against Russian forces.
“It is impossible for vessels to leave ports at this time . . . Even if the fighting will die down, just clearing the mines and debris will take time. So we don’t know how long these vessels will be trapped,” Cimafranca said.
Meanwhile, Eric Marquez of the Joint Manning Group said his group has met with the POEA to talk about this concern.
“While the manning agencies have been frantically trying to find out an agency or a ship agent who can arrange transport for the seafarers to be evacuated, wala pong ma-contact,” Marquez said.
He proposed that the POEA should issue directions to seafarers.
“Perhaps the government can issue some directions on whether the vessels should now be abandoned so that the owner need not argue whether they should abandon their ship,” Marquez added.
The POEA representative at the hearing vowed to relay the issues raised to the administrator, Bernard Olalia.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, said in a late statement that it has successfully repatriated 271 seafarers.
Some 24 Filipino sailors arrived on Tuesday, it said.
According to the United Nations, more than 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine due to Russia's invasion. Among them were 1 million children.
The Philippines has already banned the deployment of workers to the war-torn country. The ban would stay in place as long as the conflict continued.