Philippines Restricts Crew Changes to Combat New Strain of COVID-19

Philippines restricts crew changes
Crew preparing to sign on to vessels in the Philippines - Philippines Ports Authority photo

Published Jan 4, 2021 2:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

Seeking to protect the Philippines from a new variant of COVID-19, Philippines authorities announced that they have suspended crew changes for two weeks for foreign nationals from certain countries, while also tightening the restrictions for Filipinos and travelers from the United States. First identified in the UK in December and now being seen in other countries, scientists believe the new strain of the virus is far more transmissible than earlier strains but no more severe or deadly.

With countries around the world scrambling to set new protocols seeking to contain the virus, the Philippines Port Authority released its new guidelines for conducting crew changes during the first two weeks of January. The guidelines cover a total of 21 countries ranging from Australia, Canada, the United States, most of Europe, South Africa, and parts of Asia including South Korea and Singapore.

Foreign seafarers who have been in any of the listed countries in the 14 days preceding their arrival in the Philippines are restricted from entering the country. Foreign seafarers coming via the United States are still permitted to enter the country only at Manila and must go into a 14-day quarantine at one of the facilities designated by the authorities. The quarantine is required regardless of a negative result from a PRC test.

Filipino seafarers returning to the country are facing similar restrictions if they have been in any of the listed countries in the past 14 days. They too can only return to Manila and will also be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine at a designated facility. Again, this is regardless of if they have a negative result from a PRC test.

Seafarers regardless of nationality that have not been to any of the listed countries in the past 14-days can continue to enter the Philippines. They will still have to follow the Philippines' current health protocols that require testing and restricted movements.

The Philippines’ actions came as other countries have also tightened restrictions in recent days. After news of the new strain of the virus was first released most shipping across the English Channel was briefly suspended. Last weekend, Singapore announced that it was increasing enforcement of its protocols after news of that a class surveyor and a harbor pilot tested positive for the disease and likely transmitted it to family members.

The Philippines had increased its restrictions and enforcement efforts in the fall of 2020 in the face of increasing criticism linking outbreaks of the virus aboard ships to crew changes conducted in the Philippines. Quarantine hotels and crew change hubs were set up at ports, including Manila, Port Capinpin in Orion, Bataan, Batangas Port, and Sasa Wharf in Davao, the Port of Cebu, and Subic.

The current suspensions of crew changes are until January 15, 2021. The Philippine Ports Authority, however, warned that it could be extended and that additional countries might also be added to the restrictions.