SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — The Department of Transportation (DOTr) conducted a dry run in the point-to-point embarkation and debarkation of seafarers in preparation for the proposed activation of the Port of Subic as a crew-change hub.
The practice run held at the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) complex involved departure and arrival procedures at the former Hanjin ferry landing near the airport, using tugboats to transport the crew to and from ships at anchorage.
Meanwhile, the more complex arrival procedure was simulated at the Subic airport terminal where new arrivals would undergo the required swab test, have their documents processed at a one-stop-shop, and thereafter proceed to a mandatory quarantine facility.
In the test run, DOTr officials gave assurances on the safety of the procedures and said the crew-change protocols to be implemented here are the best practices in the maritime sector.
“The system we are implementing has incorporated lessons we have learned from earlier activities,” said Vice Admiral Narciso Vingson, who is DOTr assistant secretary for communications and commuter affairs.
“During the mass repatriation of seafarers from cruise ships, there were steps that have already been corrected to ensure that health will not be compromised—for the workers and the seafarers. To be able to check this, we have involved all parties, national and local government and agencies,” Vingson added.
The simulations were witnessed by representatives of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), local government units (LGUs) around the Subic Bay Freeport, and other agencies involved in the project.
Feedback from LGU representatives present during the dry run focused mostly on local workers who might be exposed to COVID-19 infection during crew-change operations, a concern raised earlier by SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma.
Eisma said that Subic is willing to host the crew-change hub project, but stressed that safety measures should be in place in all phases of the project and that LGUs should be consulted in all aspects because workers who would man crew-change facilities will come from communities contiguous to Subic.
So far, Eisma said, the SBMA board of directors had only approved the first phase of the project, which involves the point-to-point embarkation of seafarers, pending local consensus on the second phase which involves the quarantine of arriving crewmen in hotels within the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
In the dry run, DOTr Undersecretary Raul Del Rosario, who is administrator of the Office for Transport Security (OTS), pointed out that the one-stop-shop system would not allow direct exposure between seafarers and processors who would be coming from the Bureau of Quarantine, and that no airport staff would be directly involved in the crew-change operation.
Regarding phase two, Del Rosario said the safety requirements of LGUs “can be met easily because they have already been included in the protocols.”
“All hotel workers will be housed. They will be quarantined for 14 days before being allowed to go home,” he added.
Del Rosario also said that in order to ensure transparency of crew-change operations, LGUs will be represented in the one-stop-shop monitoring team, which will be given updates and reports on a regular basis.
The activation of Subic as crew-change hub is a national government undertaking involving the DOTr as lead agency, and supported by the Department of Health, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Interior and Local Government, the SBMA, and other government agencies.
The project seeks to implement the so-called Philippine Green Lane to facilitate the speedy and safe travel of seafarers, including their safe and swift crew change during the COVID-19 pandemic.