Filipino seafarers stranded in China for 17 months appeal for help

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 14) — Thirteen Filipino seafarers who have been stranded in China are begging for assistance to help them leave the ship they have been stuck in for one year and five months now.

The bulk carrier MV Angelic Power is currently anchored in South China. The vessel carrying the Filipino crew that came from Indonesia reached Guangzhou's port last year. But the restrictions brought by the pandemic and legal issues hounding their company have delayed the seafarers’ homecoming.

Seafarer Leonardo Lansang told CNN Philippines that they were detained by the Guangzhou Maritime Court on Dec. 11 due to an "economic dispute" between the cargo receiver Guangzhou South China Coal Trade Center Co and the ship's owners Angeliki Dynamic Investment Corp. He added their passports were taken, leaving them to become "hostages." He also said they were abandoned by the owner of the vessel.

"Nagmamakaawa kami na bigyang pansin kaming mga seafarer dito. Bakit hindi kami kayang pauwiin? Bawat subo po namin naalala namin ang pamilya. Araw-araw po walang hinanaing pamilya namin, puro problema sa pinansyal halos hindi namin masubo ang pagkain," Leonardo Lansang told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We are begging for help and attention. Why can't they bring us home? Every bite we take, we are reminded of our families. Every day our families complain about financial problems. We can barely eat.]

After more than a year of being stranded, the seafarers are now worried about dwindling food supplies and the deteriorating health of their fellow crew members. They also claim that the company they work for, the Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, has also withheld their salary since the start of 2021.

"Wala na po kaming insurance expired na po insurance na po namin dito maraming nagkakasakit pero wala na pong gamot. Walang sahod mentally tortured na po kami," Lansang said.

The manning agency, Magsaysay Maritime Corporation (MMC), confirmed that legal and regulatory "complications" are hindering their efforts to bring home the crew. It said they could be summoned to give their insights during possible proceedings.

"The ship and its owners are currently embroiled in legal proceedings affecting not only their interests, but the crew's as well. We understand that the Chinese court might even require the crew to participate and be heard in these proceedings in some way before they can be sent home," Magsaysay said in a statement.

The company added it will continue to coordinate with Chinese and Filipino authorities to safely bring home the seafarers.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Monday ordered officials to speed up the process of bringing home the Filipino seafarers.

"Oh God. Yes. I heard about them. Right now. @DFAPHL WHATEVER IT TAKES INCLUDING ME BEGGING. TAGAL NA ITO. REPAT FLIGHT. HERE FIRST," he said in a tweet.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he instructed Philippine Overseas Employment Administration chief Bernard Olalia to order MMC to immediately bring home the stranded seafarers "on or before the end of June."

Bello also said MMC committed to pay the unpaid wages of the maritime workers.

"Our seafarers don't have a case here, it is the owner of the vessel who has. I don't see any reason why we should not bring them back home," Bello told CNN Philippines' News.PH.

The Philippine Embassy in China said they will look into the plight of the stranded seafarers. They will also seek the help of Chinese authorities to resolve the matter and bring home the stranded Filipinos.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said they will also look into the seafarers' situation and extend help.