Transportation Secretary Art Tugade directed the DOTr maritime sector — Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) — to investigate the lapses that led to the incident of COVID-stricken RoRo vessel MV Saint Anthony de Padua, which was previously plying the Caticlan-Batangas route.
Last August 7 , it was discovered that 25 seafarers on board the vessel have tested positive for COVID-19 , in addition to the three infected crew members who disembarked from the ship on August 1 and 5 at the Port of Batangas without securing a permit from the PPA.
Although they have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, the vessel’s shipping company only informed the PCG and PPA on the three infected seafarers days after they left the ship.
Currently, they remain confined but are in stable condition.
Tugade said the MV Saint Anthony de Padua continued to transport passengers despite the indications of COVID-19 infections among its crew members on board the ship and the 433 passengers on board the ship during August 1 and 4 sailing may now have indirect or direct exposure to the disease.
As part of standard protocol, these passengers were being subjected to a rigorous contact-tracing process.
The incident led to the issuance of a show cause order to the shipping company by the PPA Port Management Office (PMO) – Batangas on August 11, citing MARINA Advisory No. 2020-86 stating: “It is the obligation of the shipowner and ship master to immediately inform the health authority and the MARINA at the next port of call about any suspected case of COVID-19.”
Based on the Ship Survey System (3S) manual promulgating Safety Certificate, the vessel shall be suspended if “a major deficiency relative to the safe operation of the ship is uncovered,” and “non-compliance with the Minimum Safe Manning Level.
The MARINA Regional Office IV (MRO 4) has issued a suspension order of the vessel’s Passenger Safety Certificate until the PCG and Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) have issued their clearances.
A medical team has been hired by the shipping company to board the vessel and monitor the conditions of the 25 infected seafarers.
Although most crew members have been reported to be asymptomatic, nurses and marshals from the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) are also on stand-by if there is a sudden need to evacuate any of the seafarers onboard the vessel. Meanwhile, those seafarers who tested negative for COVID-19 also remain on board until they are given clearance by the BOQ.
The PPA will continue to monitor the port needs and operations of the vessel, as well as ensure the centralized movements in the Batangas port.
Meanwhile, the PCG will be in charge of the continuous 24/7 seaborne patrol to ensure the security within the perimeter where the vessel is currently anchored.