RT-PCR Lab is now open for seafarers amidst challenges in crew change

The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) has opened an RT-PCR testing facility with a 2,000 a day testing capacity amid dwindling number of ships carrying out crew swap in the Port of Manila.

This morning PPA General Manager Jay Daniel Santiago is joined by Transportation Assistant Secretary VAdm. Narciso Vingson Jr. in inaugurating the one-stop shop facility with a molecular laboratory to cater to seafarers disembarking and joining their ships at the ports of Manila and nearby Capinpin in Orion, Bataan.

Atty. Santiago said the COVID-19 testing facility was setup in partnership with a private service provider First Aide Diagnostics which promised to deliver RT-PCR test results in 24 hours after the swab test or 48 hours at the latest.

Ms. Lulu Garcia of First Aide Diagnostics said the regular rate of the test is P6,000, but for seafarers, the facility located at Gate 6 Bonifacio Drive Port Area on would only charge P4,500.

Meanwhile, the number of oceangoing ships conducting crew change in Manila has significantly declined in recent weeks. 

A few months back, there were as many as over 50 foreign ships anchored in Manila Bay waiting for their turn to be inspected and subsequently execute crew swap. 

Today there were only around 30 ships, according to Port Manager Eligio Fortajada of South Harbor. Instead of just few hours, it takes two to three days to complete the crew change, he said.

Manning and ship management companies blamed the inefficiencies at the port that caused delays in the procedure: the lack of Quarantine officers, availability of tug boats, among others.  They also complained the difficulty in securing 9c Crew List visa required by the Foreign Affairs department.

Atty. Santiago explained that the port of Manila is not exclusive only for crew change.  It is also the country’s most important gateway for imports and exports.

Moreover, he added: “Kaya natin binuksan ang Port of Capinpin which is only 5 nautical miles away from the Port of Manila and we reduced port charges by 50 % to encourage shipping lines to conduct crew change there.”

Some crewing companies who have been in Orion, Bataan confirmed that it took them only about 6 hours to finish replacing their crew at Capinpin Port.

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