Coronavirus vaccines are now available in many countries especially in Europe and the US. In fact, they already started mass vaccination to flatten the daily rise of cases.
Many countries are also slacking their quarantine measures as a means to restart the economy. With the vaccines mass produced and restrictions lifted, seafarers would think joining and signing off will be much easier.
This is my personal experience. My assigned vessel is docked in Croatia. Getting there is actually quite simple.
I was expecting maximum covid-19 protocols especially in Europe where cases are skyrocketing. But it was not the case.
Another thing to add is that the information presented here may change without notice due to late publication of this article.
The COVID-19 RT-PCR Test
Everything starts with the RT-PCR Test.
Different companies implement different protocols in managing their crew prior to their RT-PCR Test. Some require their seafarers to undergo a 7-day isolation in the hotel.
Others surprise their crew members to report for the covid19 test.
Tips to be NEGATIVE
This is how I manage to get a negative result on my COVID-19 test.
First is to have a healthy diet preferably vegetables. Anyway, your medical exam from the company will be made first way before your swab test.
Take lots of vitamin C.
In the morning time, I always take 1 tablet of Vitamin C. On the afternoon, I also drink beverages rich with vitamin C like Smart C.
I didn’t opt much for fruits since the peeling process, especially oranges and apples, creates risk for hand to food contact. Bananas are okay.
Enough rest and sleep is also important in maintaining a strong immune system.
Only go outside your dormitory or boarding house when its really necessary.
Lastly, pray. Many of us think that this virus and the testing process is a scam. The best way to combat this is to pray and have faith that everything will turn out to be good.
Getting the result is quick.
In fact, the seafarer must be able to reach his ship within 72 hours after his swab test. Otherwise, he may have to be tested again along the way.
Your dispatch process may take additional procedures again for the pandemic. And it’s up to your company which approach they will take.
In my case, I had a letter for free passage taken from the International Transport Worker. This certificate indicates that seafarers are key workers for the movement of global supply chain.
It requests free passage of seafarers from their home to the vessel (or vice versa) whichever port or country they join.
Other documents include personal hygiene procedures to stop the spread of the virus which is printed in black and white.
Another important document that you must carry is the Negative test result for covid-19. Your company will guide you on this including which ones to show on which country you are traveling to.
If you happen to have multiple connecting flights, these countries will also ask for your documents. But the office already knows about this and they will brief you to it.
Lastly, they will also give you your contract, flight itinerary, OEC, Letter of Guarantee (LOG) and other documents necessary for your departure.
The “Strictest” Airport
If you follow closely the political bickering between the pro and anti government, you might think that our country has the worst response to this pandemic.
But I strongly disagree.
The NAIA Terminal 3 is probably the strictest airport around. Frontliners there are doing a good job in keeping our travelers ready with regards to international rules and regulations.
They make sure that seafarers comply with documentary requirements of their connecting airports and joining ports.
Moreover, it is very much advisable to be at the airport at least five hours before your flight. You will be surprised by the sheer number of requirements they are going to ask from you.
I arrived three and a half hours before my flight and almost didn’t make it to the plane. I was one of the last passengers to board due to strict protocols at the airport.
Apps and Documents
The very first thing you have to have when arriving at the airport is to download the Traze Contact Tracing App and create an account.
You can even do this before arriving at the airport.
If you are from the province, I believe you already had this upon checking in your domestic flight as one of the requirements for Balik Maynila.
Other documentary requirements will strongly depend on which country you’re going to join as well as the connecting flights.
Since my ship is in Croatia, I had to sign up to their online form. And since my connecting flight is in Amsterdam, I had to fill up another form in a bond paper.
YOU MAY BE DENIED OF BOARDING
There were passengers who got denied of boarding because they miss some requirements. They have to coordinate again with their manning agency to fix the problem.
Again, they may have to redo the previous tests to cover the 72-hour validity of their swab result.
What to Expect Inside the Plane
The airline implements health protocols through out the flight. There were very few passengers.
Since most passengers are seafarers joining in groups, the seat arrangements are created in the same manner.
Seafarers going to the same vessel are grouped together. And since I was joining alone, I was also alone in my aisle.
It was a good thing because I can sleep on the three seats beside me.
Another thing I noticed is their food service. During my 17-hour flight, we only had two meals. Its understandable because of the crisis we are in.
At the check-in counter, you will notice there are only few passengers around.
Arriving at Schiphol Airport
Once you succeed in getting through the Manila Airport, your next hurdle will be to your connecting flights.
In Schiphol, it was not as strict as Manila. Face mask is a must but face shield is not mandatory.
They only need your covid19 test result. If you had too many connecting flights with expired RT-PCR test, you may have to undergo another swab test while there.
Other than that, you will still undergo normal immigration and security controls.
Last Stop, Croatia
Just like in Amsterdam, airport security requires your negative covid19 test result.
Additionally, you must also show an accomplished online questionnaire that you had while still in Manila.
And that’s it, you’re done!
I was surprised upon passing Rijeka that there were already many people outside. What’s more astonishing is that they are not wearing any face mask or face shield!
Even social distancing is not observed.
I asked my taxi driver about it and they said that wearing mask is only required when you are in a room.
And since our ship was in the shipyard, I managed to go ashore and had some beer and pizza.
What’s your experience in joining your ship?
May the winds be in your favor.