It’s not all fun for seafarers

By Herbert Vego

WHILE attending the 92nd birthday celebration of my Auntie Flor in what used to be a sleepy barangay in Antique, I spent an hour talking to a seaman who had called it quits due to frustration. Let us call him Juan Matino.

To cut his long story short, he was only in his 5th month of his latest nine-month contract when terminated on the pretext that the container ship he was serving as bosun would be sold. Since his contract was for nine months, he should have been entitled to full compensation for so long. As it turned out, however, he got only the equivalent of one month’s wage for the four months he had not served due to the sale of the ship.

How cruel and ironic! Since such a sale brought huge income for the shipping firm, it could have been in a stronger position to fully compensate its terminated crew.

Fortunately, Juan had stashed away enough money from three decades of “ship hopping” to build a home and navigate an uncertain future. Oh, well, if it’s any consolation, nothing is certain in this material world except death and taxes.

My own brother RV could empathize with Juan.  From three decades of sailing, he has built a concrete home but is now on “stand-by” due to difficulty of re-boarding.

But what about the one-day-millionaire seafarers who have not risen above humble beginnings after decades at sea? Such a fate usually befalls those who get sick or completely disabled while on the job. Should they die, does their family’s hope to thrive die, too?

Literally or figuratively, overseas seamen may sail through rough seas that could abort their otherwise fruitful journey to the future. The worst case in point was the two-year Covid-19 pandemic that has thrown most of them overboard.

As a media consultant for a group of maritime lawyers offering Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers and Heirs (FLASH), I have interviewed many work-deprived seamen for the block-time radio program “Tribuna sang Banwa” (Sunday on Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo, 12:15 to 1:15 p.m.), hosted by broadcaster Neri Camiña.

If truth be told, the typical contractual seafarer suffers from “insecurity of tenure,” since his employment contract with the shipping company covers only six to nine months.  If he meets a life-threatening accident, catches a debilitating disease or dies after completing his latest contracted term, his bereaved family could end up in penury.

On the positive side, if the same misfortune strikes the seafarer at sea or on land within the contract period, he or his family is compensated in accordance with labor laws. However, it is usually easier said than done, since he could be tricked into accepting substandard benefits, as in the cited case of Juan Matino.

At the expiration of his contract period, the seaman may renew it – but only after passing another pre-employment medical examination. Otherwise, goodbye to sea life.

From the standpoint of the ship owner, usually represented locally by a manning agency, it’s a strategy aimed at keeping their ships financially afloat, no matter what misfortune awaits the “sunken” sailors.

Needless to say, if the seaman wants to stay on board, he must obey the unwritten rule: “Stay fit and healthy.”

Otherwise, he would be dropped like a hot potato and replaced by a healthier aspirant.

Between him and his employer, the disabled seaman often ends up the loser. Unless his employer is so benevolent as to indemnify him in accordance with labor laws, he has to file a claim at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and prepare for a legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

Failure to fight could mean missing the “survival indemnity” he is entitled to. But by fighting for the right compensation in accordance with labor laws, he gets a chance to reinvent himself through business or any other alternative endeavor.

In the case of the seaman who disappears on board an overseas vessel, it is not unusual for the crewing agency to conclude that the seaman committed “suicide by jumping overboard,” hence non-compensatory.

I remember a legal battle heard by NLRC, where the father of a dead seaman  decried “foul play” against the agency and the ship owner. Scared, the accused relented without waiting for the case to prosper, and paid the complainant the compensation of US $75,000.00.

The victim’s father told this writer that his family could not have  recovered financially without the legal move initiated by the Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers (FLASH) program, which always renders free legal services to exploited seamen in exchange for a small percentage from collected claims only.

With proper legal representation by a competent maritime lawyer, the disabled seaman or the widow of a dead one can always aim for compensation based on the standard Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) contract. A widow ought to receive at least $50,000.00 from her late husband’s employer, plus $7,000.00 for each of the couple’s first four children.

See? Most seamen’s widows don’t even know that.



As a public service to electricity consumers in Iloilo City, here’s a brief review from MORE Power on its brand new 30/36 MVA mobile power transformer that has been fully energized to transfer load from the old Molo power transformer.

The mobile transformer manufactured by ASTOR A.Ş. of Turkey utilizes the latest PASS M00 technology (whatever that means), which compactly combines a power circuit breaker, disconnect switches, current transformers, and potential transformers in one small form factor package.

It has compact gas-insulated switchgears and relays.

Well, then, more power to MORE Power!