POEA says stranded seafarers near China coast will still get salaries

Jasmin Romero and Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 07 2021 12:10 AM | Updated as of Oct 07 2021 12:47 AM

MANILA - The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on Wednesday said stranded Filipino seafarers near a China coast will get their salaries despite their predicament.

A total of 29 seafarers aboard three Han Rong fishing vessels were abandoned 5 months ago by their employer Global Maritime and Offshore Resources Inc., and its Chinese principal, Jenn Yih Song Seafood LTD.

The group Seanetwork earlier said the seafarers were left without food, clean water and medicine. Their salaries and allotments were also allegedly unpaid for 7 to 8 months.

Their families have called for the immediate rescue and repatriation of the crew.

“Ang magbabayad po niyan, ang employer,” POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said in a Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) virtual presser.

(Their employer would pay their salaries.)

But if the employer still fails to pay, the manning agencies would shoulder the claims through their escrow deposit to the POEA, Olalia said.

“Lahat ng manning agency…kahit suspendido na, kanselado na, meron pong escrow deposit sa POEA. Di po nila pwedeng i-withdraw yun. Yung escrow deposit will later on answer for all the monetary claims that the seafarers are entitled during this repatriation,” he said.

(All the manning agency, even if they're suspended or cancelled, have escrow deposits in POEA. They cannot withdraw it.) 

The seafarers reportedly felt helpless and their situation has taken a toll on their well-being.

The former employer, Global Maritime and Offshore Resources Inc, is allegedly ignoring its responsibilities to the Filipino workers, making their repatriation difficult to pursue.

“Nahihirapan po tayo dahil ang mga employer na ito, pasaway. Alam ng mga employer na ito na ang kanilang responsibility ay pauwiin ang kanilang employee,” Olalia said.

(We are having difficulties because these employers keep on breaking rules. They know that it's their responsibility to bring their employees home) 

POEA has since blacklisted the employer.

“Di na sila pwedeng mag-hire ng mga seafarer, ng mga fishers dahil napakatitigas ng ulo.Yyung mga ahensya naman na nag-deploy sa mga seafarer... sinuspend na rin natin.”

(They cannot hire seafarers from us because they are hard-headed. These agencies that deployed the seafarers are also suspended.)

'WE JUST WANT TO GO HOME' 

Nante Manlangit, who is on board Han Rong 366, appealed for help to the media on Tuesday. 

“Nagkakasakit na kami rito. Ang tubig namin, nagsisimula nanamang... Ayaw naming dito pa kami madisgrasya,” Manlangit, who told reporters in a virtual press conference. 

(We are getting sick here. Our water is... we do not want to have accidents here.)

“Kami ay natatakot baka mahawa kami rito. Ang hangin paikot-ikot dito nang malakas. Paiba-iba pa ng panahon.”

(We are scared to contract diseases here. The wind blows hard and the weather changes from time to time.)

“Gusto lang namin makauwi, nahihirapan na kami dito. Hindi na namin kaya pag tumagal kami dito. Mga Chinese dito akyat-baba, baka mahawaan kami dito,” said Racsam Baguna, who is on the same vessel.

(We just want to go home because it is difficult here. We cannot stand it here anymore. The Chinese here keeps on visiting us so the risk of getting the disease is high.) 

Terry Madla, who is also stranded on board Han Rong 362, said they are having difficulties coping with their situation. 

“Hirap na hirap na kami dito, sir. Sana matulungan niyo po kami, sir. Di na namin alam ano ang gagawin namin. Araw-araw gabi-gabi kami nag-iiyak dito para makauwi, sir. Depressed na depressed na po kami dito. Isa lang hinihingi namin—ang makauwi kami nang maayos," Madla said.

(It is very difficult here, so we hope you can help us. We do not know what to do. Everyday we cry just to go home. We are already depressed. We just want to go home safe)

Their plight was brought to the attention of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in August this year.

Last Sept. 16, the families of the stranded seafarers along with the Seanetwork, Migrante International, Concerned Seafarers of the Philippines and other groups trooped to the DFA to demand the immediate rescue and repatriation of the crew members. 

Seanetwork's Atty. Ed dela Cruz said the DFA committed to provide food, clean water and medicine, and to facilitate the repatriation of the distressed seafarers before the end of the month.

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In its official website, the DFA posted on the same day photos showing its delivery of care packages to the 29 Filipino seafarers on board the Chinese-flagged fishing vessels. 

The care packages contained food, clothing and hygiene kits to address the immediate and basic needs of the stranded seafarers, the DFA said.

However, their repatriation has yet to push through, which led the seafarers and their families to worry even more.

“Sana makauwi na lahat ng crew kasi hindi na po maganda ang nararamdaman nila, stressed na stressed na po sila. Depressed na, gayundin ako bilang isang magulang na nag-aalala. Hindi na ako makatulog kakaisip sa kanila. May sama pa ng panahon ngayon, hindi pa sila makakain nang maayos," said Edna Madla, Terry Madla’s relative.

(We hope they can go home safe because they are feeling unwell. They are already stressed and depressed. As a parent, I know how it feels. I cannot sleep just thinking about them and the weather is bad. They are not eating right, too)

Miriam Luciano, a sister of Roland Ronquillo who is on board Han Rong 366, said they don't know where to get the money for their needs, but what matters is to get him home safe. 

'MURDER'

Seanetwork said they contacted the DFA for updates but they have yet to receive a response. 

The group is urging the government to come up with immediate and clear plans for the repatriation of the seafarers.

Dela Cruz noted that the lives and safety of the crew are in great peril, with the Chinese captain sometimes blocking clean water sent to stranded Filipino seafarers and confiscating their phone SIM cards.

“Ang tubig nila, kinukumpiska pa ng Chinese. Ang kapitan, ihuhulog na raw sila sa lifeboat. Tapos pababayaan na raw sa gitna ng dagat. Murder yun kung iniwan sila sa rough seas na malayo sa shore. Malinaw na attempt yun para ang crew ay saktan at ilayo sa barko,” Dela Cruz said.

(Their water is being confiscated by the Chinese. They also threatened the captain to push him on the lifeboat. They were left in the middle of the ocean. That is murder because they were left at rough seas far from the shore. That is a clear attempt that they want to hurt the crew.)

He went on: “Yung kumpanya walang ginagawang malinaw na plano, kaya ang gobyerno na ang tinatawagan para magsagawa ng rescue mission. Dati nangako ang DFA na katapusan ng September."

(The company doesn't have clear plans that's why we are calling on the government to launch a rescue mission. The DFA promised before that they'll settle this before the end of September)

"Ngayon, mag-October 6 na, walang linaw kung kailan sila iuuwi ng DFA. Yung employer nila, abandonment na ito since May hindi na sila binibigyan ng pagkain at malinis na tubig, inilayo sila sa port," the lawyer said.

(It is already October 6. It is unclear yet when they can go home. Their employers abandoned them since May and they weren't given food or clean water. They were even placed far from the port)

Other crew members who are Indonesian and Burmese have already been repatriated by their own governments in June and July, respectively. Only the Filipinos remain stranded in the three Han Rong ships.

“Ang hinihiling lang namin ng mga pamilya ay pauwiin muna sila, tsaka hahabulin ang agency for the allotment at sahod, concern nila iyon para sa kanilang pamilya. Ang agency kailangan magbayad. Ang personnel ng agency ay personally liable," Dela Cruz said.

(We just want them to go home and then we can make the agency accountable for their salaries. That's their concern for their families. They have to pay and they are liable)

“I-airlift na sila o isakay sa eroplano. Kailangan ng DFA mag-ayos na ng kanilang exit documents. DFA lang ang may kapangyarihang kumausap sa kanilang counterpart sa China para payagan na pababain sa barko at pasakayin sila sa eroplano at pauwiin sa Pilipinas,” he added.

(Maybe the government could airlift them. The DFA needs to process their exit documents. DFA has the only power to talk to their counterpart in China to allow these seafarers to go back to the Philippines)