The seafarer’s working conditions onboard the vessel, including his dietary provisions, can aggravate or increase the risk of contracting ailments like kidney diseases.

In Caraan vs Grieg Philippines, Inc. (G.R. No. 252199 May 5, 2021), the Supreme Court granted total permanent disability benefits to a seafarer diagnosed with kidney cancer as it identified dietary provisions. as one of the causes of said illness.

The seafarer has worked with the principal for eight years. During his last contract, he experienced pain while urinating and discharged blood in his urine.

Upon reaching a convenient port in Japan, he was given medical attention where he was initially diagnosed with urinary tract infection (UTI) and chronic prostatitis.

He was declared unfit to work and got medically repatriated. Months later after his arrival, he was diagnosed with hypertension and renal cell carcinoma in his left kidney.

The company denied liability for disability benefits as it argued that the illness is not work-related, among other reasons.

Employers usually deny liability for payment of benefits on questions whether or not the illness is work-connected under the POEA Standard Employment Contract.

They argue that there are only three types of cancers listed under Section 32-A as occupational diseases: (a) cancer of the epithelial lining of the bladder; (b) cancer, epitheliomatous or ulceration of the skin or the corneal surface of the eye; and (c) acute myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

However, compensability is not limited to the listed occupational diseases.

Compensation is availing for as long as the seafarer can show by substantial evidence that he suffered disabilities occasioned by a disease contracted on account of or aggravated by working conditions.

He must establish his right thereto by substantial evidence or “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”

In the instant case, the seafarer was able to establish by substantial evidence the compensability of the illness, its work-connectedness, and that he suffered from it during the term of his contract. The employer failed to adduce any evidence to refute his allegations.

The Court ruled that the seafarer’s working conditions onboard the vessel aggravated or increased the risk of contracting his kidney ailment.

As to his dietary provision, the Court took note of the fact that seafarers could only eat the food available onboard which consisted mainly of high-fat, high-cholesterol, low-fiber foods, salt-cured .fish, and preserved meat in a can.

The seafarer’s arduous nature of job entails strenuous physical activities or hard manual labor for an extended period such as: sounding of tanks; assisting in all maintenance works; lifting of heavy loads; cleaning of incinerators, septic tanks, and engine room using strong cleaning solutions; checking the engine temperature daily, refilling of tanks of oil and lubricants; monitoring all running motors and machinery.

It was physically and mentally demanding especially during monitoring all motors, engine, equipment, and condition of the vessel.

He was directly exposed to all forms of toxic fumes such as asbestos and gases, and excessive noise inside the engine room.

His continuous job precludes urination as he had to endure the call of nature due to the demands of his work.

Given his 8 years of employment with the company and the conditions he was subjected to as a seafarer, the Court ruled that the illness can be attributed to his work.
Seafarers are on board vessels in the high seas for a substantial length of time and food supplies are usually frozen, preserved, smoked, salted, and canned meats as these items are not easily perishable.

In Leonis Navigation v. Villamater (G.R. No. 179169 March 3, 2010 ), the Court pointed out that a seafarer had no choice of what to eat on board except those provided on the vessels and these consisted mainly of high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber foods. The breakdown products of fat metabolism lead to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens).

In Skippers vs Lagne (G.R. No. 217036 Aug. 20, 2018), the Court said that the food provided to seafarers is mostly frozen meat, canned goods and seldom are there vegetables which easily rot and wilt and, therefore, impracticable for long trips. These provisions undoubtedly contributed to the aggravation of seafarers’ rectal illness.

Taking responsibility for the health of all human souls on their ships also defines the shipowners’ sense of humanity and justice. No ship sails without a human crew”, declared the Court in Paringit vs. Global Gateway ( G.R. No. 217123, March 28, 2019). A crew properly nourished, adequately fit, and enjoying humane working conditions will redound to the benefit of the shipowners.

(Atty, Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786).