Stuck at sea: 6,000 seafarers onboard quarantine ships await COVID-19 test results

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 21 2020 09:22 AM | Updated as of May 21 2020 09:28 AM

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MANILA - Some 6,000 Filipino seafarers remain stuck onboard 16 quarantine ships in Manila Bay, some for as long as 2 months, as they await the release of their coronavirus test results before they are allowed to disembark, a crew ship manning agency said Thursday.

The government earlier said 5,000 of some 28,000 overseas Filipino workers tested for the virus have yet to receive their test results.

More than 20 ships are docked in the area as isolation facilities for overseas Filipino workers, according to Marlon Roño, chairman of Magsaysay Maritime Corporation.

The company has sent counselors to the ships to assess the mental and physical health of the sailors, he said.

"Kung ikaw ay nasa kabina ng 2 buwan...napakahirap po. May hina-hire kami na counselor upang makipagusap sa kanila, nakapakahirap makulong sa kabina o kwarto ng 2 buwan," he told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.

"Kailangan po naming gawin 'yun dahil una may mental at physical anxiety na 'yan. Kaya ho sana mapabilis agad 'yang release ng mga certificate upang sila’y makauwi sa kani-kanilang pamilya."

Some 45,000 seafarers also need to be brought home and be replaced in their duties after their contracts lapsed, Roño said.

OFWs should be considered essential workers and be given the right to unimpeded travel to Metro Manila, he added.

"Yung mga seafarers natin na dapat sumampa sa barko gaya sa Visayas, Mindanao, dapat bigyan po sila ng pagkataon ng unimpeded travel to Manila para sila'y makasampa sa barko," he said.

"Kung di tayo gagalaw nang mabilis, s'yempre may iba pong lahi ang naghihintay."

Upon arrival in Manila, Filipino repatriates are sent to quarantine facilities where they stay for 2 weeks and sent to their hometowns if cleared from COVID-19, according to Task Force Bayanihan OFW commander commodore Ike Enriquez.

He urged OFWs to postpone their return to the Philippines as the country was still addressing backlog in its coronavirus testing. Some 40,000 OFWs are still expected to be repatriated, government earlier said.

"Kung di naman po urgent umuwi sa ating bansa, kung pwede po maiwasan muna," he said.