“Filipino seafarers are our gifts to give to the world and the Church.”
Words that became part of the homilies of masses for the 26th National Seafarers Day (NSD) last Sunday, September 26.
Former president Fidel V. Ramos issued on July 9, 1996 Proclamation No. 828 declaring August 18 as NSD to give due recognition to the vital role of Filipino seafarers towards the development of the Philippines as a maritime country.
The Stella Maris Philippines was tasked to coordinate with the public and private sector in activities related to the celebration of the said event.
Later, Proclamation No.1094 was issued in 1997 by President Ramos which moved NSD to every last Sunday of September every year.
The Philippines is considered as the major supplier of maritime labor globally as it is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five complements on board a vessel at any time.
The sea-based sector’s remittance comprise at least 22 percent of the total dollar remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
These remittances help spur domestic consumption in the Philippines and a key ingredient in the country’s drive to achieve higher but sustainable growth.
Seafarers have been the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, enjoying a vital function in sustaining the stream of important items, akin to food, household and medical provisions.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on seafarers, with hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded on ships for months beyond their original contracts, unable to be repatriated due to national travel restrictions. A similar number of seafarers are unable to join ships and earn a living.
“As Filipino seafarers continue to sail the seas of the world, they give hope that despite the pandemic which has paralyzed many of our day-to-day activities and ventures, somehow, we are still interconnected” There is always hope. Our hope is God,” Balanga Bishop and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Bishop Promoter of Stella Maris-Philippines Ruperto C. Santos said in a statement.
Bishop Santos noted that Filipino seafarers give honor to the Philippines with their dedication and discipline in their lines of work.
Pope Francis earlier aired his concern on the challenges that are faced by maritime workers and their families amid the pandemic adding that “without the people of the sea, many parts of the world would starve.”
People depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their sustenance as the fishing industry employs, directly or indirectly, more than 200 million people.
Bishop Santos added that “seafarers and fishers bring healing when hunger is nourished and when material sustenance from their cargo ships or boats reach our ports and shores.”
Former Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle during the 2012 NSD celebration said that Filipino seafarers are also ‘saint potentials’.
Referring to Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod, Tagle stressed that they were seafarers and missionaries at the same time before they became saints, who sailed to other countries and died for a mission: “to teach the Good News.”
The work of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park.
Away from his family and working on board vessels sailing non-stop for weeks or months the world’s oceans, the Filipino seafarer is physically, mentally and emotionally stressed.
The shipping industry and seafaring profession are not without incident or peril where some may go missing or die in maritime disasters, while others may suffer illnesses or injury due increased work-related stress and exposure to extreme weather changes.
The European Maritime Safety Agency declared in a report that between 2011 and 2020, there were 745 work-related fatalities among maritime workers and nearly 9,000 persons injured
The Memorial at Sea is a traditional wreathe and flower-throwing activity by the sea for the deceased seafarers and fishers, as well as for those who have perished or missing at sea.
The flowers carry the message of love and gratitude as there is no distance of time or oceans but a mutual waiting for a reunion in peace.
Last year’s Memorial at Sea focused on the 36 Filipino seafarers that were still missing after the Panama-flagged livestock carrier Gulf Livestock 1 capsized in rough seas in southwest Japan on September 2, 2020 due to Typhoon Maysak.
Let us continue to pray for the Filipino seafarers’ perseverance, for their protection and their safety.
(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)