As more travel and employment restrictions are placed globally because of the coronavirus pandemic, an agreement between the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and a newly-formed maritime group seeks to prioritize the swab testing of Filipino seafarers to hasten their deployment abroad.
The memorandum of agreement signed between the PRC and the ALMA Maritime Group will ensure the use of the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, the globally accepted Covid-19 test for seafarers employed in a fleet.
The agreement was signed to ensure the “unhampered and hassle-free deployment” of the seafarers amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The PRC-ALMA agreement aims to accommodate a maximum of 1,300 crew members per day. From the time of swabbing, the results of the swab test will be released within 72 hours for regular tests, 24 hours for stat tests, and six to eight hours for super stat tests.
Normally, it takes private institutions from three to five days to release the results of the test. In some cases, the processing of the specimen can take up until a week before the results are released.
ALMA President Cristina Garcia said that Filipinos seafarers are required to undergo “robust testing” before they are allowed to work on ships again. This is to avoid the transmission of the virus.
“The seafaring industry is largely challenged with the predatory costs of RT PCR tests in the Philippines and the long wait of the results which will not be accepted by the joining ports once the seafarers reach the foreign ports,” she said.
The agreement will make this problem “a thing of the past,” Garcia added.
For its part, the Red Cross assures “an expedited release of test results at a reduced cost” for the seafarers.
Garcia thanked PRC Chairman Richard Gordon for ushering the preferential treatment to seafarers, saying that the lawmaker understands the need to hasten the deployment of Filipino seafarers overseas.
“We are very thankful to Senator Richard Gordon for the help he extended to make this project possible,” she said.
ALMA Maritime Group is composed of 50 members, all of which are licensed manning agencies that handle about 110,000 seafarers. It was formed at the height of the pandemic after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) imposed travel restrictions, health protocols, and other regulations without reaching out to manning agencies.
Lawyer Iris Baguilat, ALMA trustee and corporate secretary and president of Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila) Inc., said that during the trial run, the group saw a 75 percent reduction of expedited test costs for the seafarers.
“We thank the Red Cross and Senator Gordon for supporting the jobs of our seafarers onboard ships, and for helping the Filipino seafarers help solve our crew change difficulties,” Baguilat added.