Remote Assistance for Three Filipino Fishers By Stella Maris Cape Town

Three Filipino fishers in Manila requested assistance from Stella Maris Cape Town after they found themselves in a difficult situation when collecting their final savings (salary) from their manning agency Erika Crewmanning Services Inc. Mr. Vincent Velasco went home more than two months ago, Mr. Marlon Barbero, and Mr. Judy Lopez went home more than four months ago at the end of their employment contracts. Normally, upon arrival in Manila, a fisher reports to his agency and collects his final savings and the rest of the salary for twenty-four months. They did this procedure on different dates. However, their manning agency Erika Crewmanning Services Inc. told them to return after a month.


A month passed, and they returned to the manning agency. There was no payment at all. According to the agency, the vessel owner of Senshu Maru no. 03, a Japanese-flagged fishing vessel they worked on, had not yet provided their pay slips and salaries. Being a concerned manning agency, the agency recommended they do cash advances rather than waiting for the pay slips to arrive, which no one knows when.


Mr. Barbero and Mr. Lopez found the proposition beneficial. Both took the cash advance, but Mr. Velasco didn’t; he wanted the whole amount of his final savings. Due to a difficult situation, two fishers accepted the proposal.


They stayed in Manila for a while paying for lodging and food until they consumed their pocket money. Their predicament was either to stay in Manila while waiting for their final savings to be released, or they could go back home to their provinces where they would have to spend anyway. Either way, they lose money because they have to wait so long.


In response, Stella Maris brought these grievances to the attention of the Philippine Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) in Manila, Taiwan Liaison Office in Cape Town, and local agent of Shenshu Maru no. 3. Fr. Rico Talisic also suggested to the fishers to report the matter to the Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Manila. OWWA officers responded swiftly to the matter and called for a meeting between the agency and fishers. However, no representative from the manning agency came. At the second meeting, the agency representative explained that they couldn’t pay their salaries because they still didn’t receive the money from the vessel owner. Hence, the fishers filed a case with the OWWA against Erika Crewmanning Services Inc,. Fr. Rico obtained a copy of the bank transfer of money from the vessel owner to the manning agency, but sadly it took time. Until now, no payments have been made to the fishers. The story continues to unfold very slowly.


In addition to the unpaid final savings (salaries), Mr. Velasco’s Social Security Services (SSS) and Philhealth contributions were not paid either. His SSS missed a year of contributions, and his Philhealth missed a month of contributions.


Stella Maris condemns such malpractices of vessel owners and manning agencies that add to the ordeal of fishers. They don’t see that the fishers’ ordeal starts with recruitment, where there are many unexpected debts incurred from the manning agency. It gets worse on board a fishing vessel at sea because they are subjected to all sorts of labour exploitation. Sometimes they have eighteen hours shifts, and sometimes they work for thirty-two hours straight when there’s less catch. There are times when they are not fed enough food, lack personal protective equipment (PPE), make them vulnerable to occupational hazards, and suffer physical and verbal abuse by the Captain or Chief engineer. Despite having endured twenty-four months of hard work on board fishing vessels and rough ocean conditions, the fishers’ ordeal continues even when they reached Manila to collect their salaries from their manning agency.


These fishers have suffered enough. Their hard work should be rewarded. They, however, get caught up in a vicious cycle of ordeals. They were away from their families for twenty-four months, and after reaching Manila, they remained away from their families while waiting for their salaries. They have dreams and plans to fulfill when they get home. But all this has to wait. While waiting, they spend unnecessary money in Manila for months. While in Manila, they started scouting for a better manning agency and applying for fishing jobs. Lately, Mr. Velasco was called for a new fishing job on another vessel, but he couldn’t go without collecting his salary first.


Stella Maris appeals to Taiwanese fishing vessel owners to stop their malpractices of delaying the salaries of fishers at the end of their employment contracts. We call on the manning agencies in Manila not to delay the payment of the fishers’ salaries. Stella Maris heard that they offer to give cash advances not because they care about the fishers but to prolong the release of the salaries. These are common malpractices in the fishing industry that adds to the ordeal of migrant fishers. These are some modus operandi of vessel owners in Taiwan and manning agencies in Manila to cater for their selfish interests at the expense of fishers. Accordingly, manning agencies delay the allotment and salaries of migrant fishers because they deposit the money to banks to gain interest without considering the need of fishers. The Stella Maris Scalabrinian Network condemns such malpractices and advocates for the rights and welfare of fishers.