By MARILOU DE CASTRO
MANILA – The families of the 29 Filipino seafarers stranded off the coast of Xiamen, China for almost five months now are asking the government to bring them home, saying that their pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears.
In an online press briefing organized by Migrante International, their families shared that the seafarers who are aboard three Chinese-flagged fishing vessels were supposed to return to the country on May 2021. However, they were prevented from docking in Singapore. The ship captain then brought them to Xiamen, China, where they have been stranded ever since.
“We learned that they only eat once a day, and they get by from the frozen fish that has been in their freezer for the past two years. There are so many of them (in the fishing vessel). They filter the water to remove the rust,” said Myca Madla, sister of one the 29 seafarers during the press conference.
The families have since knocked on the doors of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and even Congress to look into their loved ones’ situation. Even the recruitment agency, Global Marine Offshore and Resources, the relatives said in the press briefing, are not responding to their queries.
This pushed relatives to hold a protest action in front of the DFA last Sept. 19.
They were initially told that the stranded Filipino seafarers, mostly first-timers and were signed for a $350 monthly salary, may be able to return by the first week of October.
In an online press conference last month, the families of the stranded seafarers, alongside Sea Network, Migrante International, Concerned Seafarers of the Philippines, Amihan, and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, voiced out their calls for their loved ones to be rescued and repatriated.
Sea Network noted that other nationals, such as those from Myanmar and Indonesia, have already been repatriated by their governments.
“As the company has virtually abandoned the crew and the Master of Han Rong 366 even threatened to put the Filipinos afloat in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, the lives and safety of the crew are in great peril. Even an earlier delivery of water for the Filipinos was blocked by the Chinese captain who confiscated the clean water. Even SIM cards for phone communication of some of them were confiscated by the Chinese Captain,” Sea Network said in a statement.
To be able to speak to their loved ones, relatives pooled money for a $20 mobile load. The stranded seafarers would then share the data as a mobile hotspot so that everyone would be able to contact their families and seek assistance.
Families of the stranded seafarers also expressed fears that they may contract the COVID-19.
Madla said “My brother would always send me messages. They are getting impatient and they really want to go home. I am asking the DFA to fulfill its promise. I am asking that they be repatriated immediately and receive necessary medical (attention).” (JJE, RTS)