2 year unders PNoy Seafarers recount tales of “hell at sea”

They applied for deck cadet, mess men and engine cadet positions but were employed as fishermen instead. They were promised USD$350 monthly but received only as low as Php7,000 in salary. They were made to work at least 14 hours a day. They scavenged for food, were forced to steal dog food and drink rusty water from the engines to survive.

They were victims of frustrated murder and suffered serious injuries but were denied medical treatment. One’s wounds were stitched by the ship captain, sans anesthesia and proper medical facilities.

These were some of the gruesome accounts of 12 seafarers who were recently repatriated back to the Philippines after months of gruesome encounters at sea.

The seafarers, June Parina, Maurecio Parel, Jesher Salvacion, Francis Dave Clementir, Mark Hinola, Khalid John Valenzuela, Junuel Blando, John dela Gubaton, Joji Hayahay and Felizardo Tono, were all recruited by JMP Polaris Navigation Inc. and deployed to work for two Taiwan-based ship companies, Meng Hao Fishery Co. Ltd. and Meng Hao Fishery Co. Ltd.

All of them were victims of contract violation and substitution and illegal collection of placement fees by their manning agency, represented by a certain Annabelle Palma David. “We were made to pay P2,000 to P2,500 for our medical examination. Apart from this, they charged us P15,000 for processing and placement fees,” the seafarers said.

They were promised USD$350 monthly salary on top of USD$105 fixed overtime pay and a separate monthly food allowance. “But before we left they made us sign a new contract lowering our monthly salary to USD$250 for a fixed two-year contract.”

Things soon became horrible once they boarded ship. “We became fishermen against our will. They made us work like slaves in inhumane conditions. We had poor accommodations and had no sufficient food or water,” said June Parina, leader of seafarers from Jui Wun Fishery Co. Ltd.

On April 15, Parina was attacked by four fellow Vietnamese shipmates. He suffered stab wounds in the head, back and face. “They were no medical facilities inside the ship. They did not give me medicine. Ship authorities promised to give me medical treatment but I received none.”

It was only on June 18, when their ship embarked on Taiwan, that Parina was able to call David of JMP Polaris Navigation Inc. “The agency, however, did not do anything. When I was finally rescued and turned over to agency, they had me detained at their ‘monkey house’ for three days,” he said.

Parina was only able to go home with the help of his father who paid the manning agency USD$1,000 for the processing of his repatriation.

Another one of the seafarers, Felizardo Herrera Tono Jr., was also attacked by fellow Indonesian shipmates on April 14. He was hacked in the neck and arms. “I almost died because of my injuries. I lost so much blood,” he said.

He sought help from his shipmates who immediately reported the incident to the ship captain. “But instead of stopping at the nearest port, we went on to fishing. Because of my insistence, the ship captain finally relented and stitched me himself.”

Mark Hinola, leader of the seafarers from Meng Hao Fishery Co. Ltd., called David to inform the agency of their condition but “she said that they would only help us if we signed a resignation letter stating that we would not file legal charges against the agency.” He said that the agency appeared to be in connivance with the ship company who threatened to have them jailed in Taiwan if they did not sign the resignation letter.

It was then that he decided to call 911 when their ship neared Singapore. “I told the operator that we were being maltreated. He then referred me to the Singapore coast guard who immediately rescued us.”

The 12 seafarers recently got back and have filed cases before the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and National Labor Relations Commission NLRC). They are demanding the suspension of the license of JMP Polaris Navigation Inc., their back wages and other benefits.

According to Migrante International Garry Martinez, “We are also discussing with them the possibility of filing administrative and criminal charges against the ship companies and the manning agency.”

“These are just glimpses of the fate our seafarers and sea-based OFWs suffer while at sea. There is apparent government neglect in their case. The manning agency in question is a notorious one but it continues to be able to operate under the noses of the POEA and other concerned government agencies,” he said.

Martinez said that the seafarers will be joining the Migrante International contingent in the People’s SONA (State of the Nation Address) on July 23.###