MANILA – The repatriation of 11 Filipino seafarers onboard Ocean Star 86 stranded in Chinese waters is underway, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday.
In a statement, the DFA said it is finalizing the repatriation of the seafarers who have been stranded since March 24, contrary to claims by migrant rights group Migrante International that it failed to attend to the seafarers’ concerns.
“The DFA, through the Philippine Consulate General, is continuing to act on the needs of the 11 seafarers and will continue to exert utmost efforts to them, along with other stranded Filipinos in China in general, and in Fujian province, in particular,” the statement read.
It said a certain Jake Cruz sent an e-mail to the Philippine Consulate General in Xiamen on April 22, reporting about the plight of the seafarers.
The DFA made contact with the seafarers, through an individual identified to be the team leader, to determine their working, physical and mental conditions.
As requested by the seafarers, the consulate prepared packages containing ready-to-eat food and personal hygiene kit, it added.
“The latest of these care packages were sent to the distressed seafarers this week when the Philippine Consulate General in Xiamen learned that the vessel was finally allowed to dock without yet being permitted to disembark its crew,” it said.
The consulate also made regular representations to Chinese authorities and ship owners for all Filipino seafarers stranded in the waters off the coast of Fujian province, including those onboard Ocean Star 86 and other Chinese vessels so that they be paid their salaries and other allowances.
According to the DFA, since March it has initiated and coordinated six repatriations that brought home 188 seafarers and other stranded Filipinos from Fujian province alone.
As of September 24, there have been a total of 66,029 seafarers out of the 190,245 overseas Filipinos brought home from all over the world, despite the various travel restrictions and lockdowns in place worldwide brought about by the pandemic, the DFA said.
The repatriation of seafarers is made “more challenging” due to the docking and disembarkation restrictions for vessels set by local authorities and the “severely limited” number of flights in other countries.
Due to the “unprecedented” number of repatriations this year, the PHP1 billion-peso Assistance-to-Nationals (ATN) Fund was quickly depleted, and an additional PHP820 million for ATN Covid-19 response was allocated by the Philippine government to ensure the continuing repatriation of Filipinos stranded abroad, the DFA said. (PNA)