Filipinos may be delayed back to sea as ship managers rally typhoon support

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Filipino seafarers are facing severe delays in returning to their vessels after their period of leave as they struggle to come to terms with the after-effects of Super Typhoon Haiyan, a leading ship manager has claimed.

Mark Parotte, Owners’ Representative at Univan Management Services, said that although relief efforts were in the early stages, the crisis will have a ‘severe impact’ on the Filipino Seafaring community.

Over 5,000 people are believed to have been killed after the typhoon destroyed countless homes and left hundreds of thousands of people without shelter, food, water and power. 

The crisis is having a huge impact on Filipino seafarers (who represent the majority of the world’s seafaring population), many of whom are currently at sea, without access to communications and with no news of their loved ones.

Mr Parotte added: “Univan has quite a number of crew from the Central Visayan region and we are preparing ourselves for emergency relief for those needing to go home to be with their families. We are also expecting that many of our seafarers currently at home on leave in that region will be delayed in returning back to our fleet while they try to get their homes and lives back in to some sort of order,” he said.

The news came as the global shipmanagement interest came together to offer aid and relief to the country so badly affected by the Super Typhoon.

Univan directors and staff reacted quickly in setting up emergency meetings to lay out plans to assist crew and their families: “Our first response was to send an advisory to our fleet and set up a hotline for our crew onboard to channel information to us about any family members they have not yet heard from, so we can do the ground work and try to establish their whereabouts and feed information back to them onboard.

“Secondly we were able to run reports of all of our crew who live in the affected areas (both on leave and onboard personnel) so we could ascertain just how many of our personnel may be affected. Then, we followed a process of trying to establish contact with them or their families, to let them know that we are here for them should they require any assistance. For those in remote cut-off areas we are able to pass information to various government agencies and relief organisations so that they may get some priority assistance.

Univan is also preparing emergency relief for crew who need to return home to be with their families and has commenced collecting relief goods and donations to assist with this. The company is coordinating its collections with the Filipino Association of Maritime Employers (FAME), as well as providing manpower for the packing and distribution of relief goods. Univan is also allowing seafarers from badly affected areas to make use of an interest-free loan facility, which they may use to help them during these difficult times.

Ship managers are also aiming funds towards the relief efforts of third party organisations and charities. Carl Schou, President, Wilhelmsen Ship Management, confirmed that as an immediate action, his company has donated funds to the Norwegian Business Council in Manila, which is collaborating with the Norwegian Training Centre in Manila to send a vessel with a relief cargo of four tons of emergency rations. Owing to the impact on communications, Mr Schou lamented the fact that it has been difficult for emergency workers and supplies to reach badly affected areas.

V.Ships has also been focusing its resources on helping seafarers in this time of crisis. Keith Parsons, Group Director (Asia), V.Ships Asia Group, told SMI he estimates over 3,000 of his company’s serving seafarers live in the central region most affected, meaning the tragedy has had a huge impact across large parts of the V.Ships fleet, its seafarers and their families.

“The biggest problem we face right now is the lack of information due to the breakdown of communications in the affected area, with cellular and land-based telephones out of action. It is this ‘unknown’ that is causing such anxiety for our seafarers as we try to gather whatever information we can, through local networks and radio stations that have survived the devastation,” noted Mr Parsons, who at the time of writing, is travelling to the Philippines to assist relief efforts.

When asked how V.Ships has reacted to the crisis, Mr Parsons said: “We immediately established an incident response team in our Manila office, manned 24 hours and handling correspondence coming into an emergency contact address set up for the purpose. Our contact details are being aired daily on local radio stations, requesting our crew and their families to get in touch. We have established a line of communication with all of the affected vessels providing the contact details and whatever information we have been able to gather.

“We will do whatever we can to repatriate any seafarer who needs to get home to their families, although this will clearly be hampered by the general breakdown of transportation in the worst affected areas. At present we are assessing, with guidance from the authorities, the viability of sending company representatives to three of our seafarers’ communities, to establish company bases in Iloilo, Tacloban and Cebu, carrying necessary communications equipment, power-packs, etcetera, with the prime objective of making contact with the families.”

He added that local TV networks in Manila have organised land transport carrying essential items and V.Ships has contributed some basic necessities, including rice and canned food, though this will take approximately two days to reach its destination. In addition, Mr Parsons said the response from V.Ships employees and clients across the globe has been one of real concern, with a great desire to help. He said that considering the impact of the storm on communications in the Philippines, V.Ships will issue daily bulletins as the aftermath of the disaster unfolds.

“While the Government and international aid agencies are providing first response medical attention and immediate relief, we are trying to link up crew members with their families and provide immediate financial assistance to those in need, however our real difficulty is getting access to those in need. Apart from the emergency fund set up, a company-wide appeal is being launched today and all monies collected across the organisation will be matched by our company and distributed as quickly and effectively as possible. Wherever possible we will coordinate with seafarer welfare organisations, which are themselves mobilising a relief effort across the industry.

“We anticipate that further, longer term support is going to be needed for those that have lost family members, their homes and their communities, but the picture is still unfolding and our immediate efforts will be focussed on emergency relief. The provision of counselling services is also likely to be required in the immediate and longer term and this is something that we will try to assist with,” Mr Parsons concluded.

 

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