At least 2,300 Filipino seafarers stuck in quarantine waiting for COVID-19 test results

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 16) – At least 2,300 Filipino seafarers are stuck in various quarantine facilities, waiting for coronavirus test results.

Philippine Transmarine Carriers Executive Director Restituto Padilla, Jr. told CNN Philippines on Saturday that some Filipino seafarers have been staying in various quarantine facilities and cruise ships for nearly a month already.

“Sa amin lang kumpanya, sa mahigit na halos 4,000 na ang PCR test merong nananatili pang 2,300 plus na nagaantay ng resulta,” Padilla said in an interview. “Diyan sa ating Manila Bay ngayon ay nakalutang diyan ang napakamaraming cruise ship, mahigit bente na cruise ship nagaantay para maibaba yung kanilang mga Filipino crew na sa ganun makauwi na, pero hindi pa natatapos ang kanilang PCR testing.”

[Translation: In our company, out of the 4,000 who have been tested, more than 2,300 are still waiting for their results. More than twenty cruise ships are waiting in Manila Bay for their Filipino crew to disembark and return home, but they are still waiting for their PCR testing.]

Padilla clarified that the actual figures may be more because the numbers they have include only those covered by their company, which they have provided for.

More than 1,300 Filipino seafarers have returned to their homes after completing 14-day quarantine and testing negative for COVID-19, Padilla said.

Returning Filipino seafarers undergo RT-PCR testing, which gives a definitive diagnosis for COVID-19 patients. While it is the “gold standard test," it takes at least 24 hours to process, sometimes even longer due to bottlenecks.

Deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon earlier said that the government will prioritize 25,000 returning OFWs for testing this month, so that those who do not have the coronavirus will be allowed to return to their hometowns as soon as possible.

The Department of Foreign Affairs reported Thursday at least 19,064 Filipino seafarers have been brought home to the Philippines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with thousands more expected in the coming weeks.

However, Filipino seafarers experienced challenges even after returning home, with some being asked to pay the hotel bills where they underwent the mandatory 14-day quarantine, because their manning agencies did not.

When CNN Philippines raised this with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac said they are prepared to help affected seafarers, but clarified that the manning agencies should have shouldered the cost for quarantining their workers.

"Tinutulungan nating yun, sinasalo natin sila sa OWWA," Cacdac said. "Under the 'Tulong Marino Program' we provide food and accommodation."

[Translation: We will help them, OWWA will cover them. Under the 'Tulong Marino Program' we provide food and accommodation.]

Cacdac added that more seafarers from cruise ship lines are expected to arrive, as the industry is among the hardest hit by the global health crisis and it will take some time before they resume operations.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Filipino cruise ship workers in Germany have asked the government to help them return home to the Philippines.

CNN Philippines' correspondent Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.