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Mixed welcome awaits seafarers returning to hometowns in Mindanao

ILIGAN CITY—More than 50 seafarers are returning to their homes in different Mindanao areas to a mix of warm welcome and anxious acceptance by local leaders.

The seafarers’ ordeal started when they arrived in Manila and were stranded by lockdown restrictions on travel between towns, provinces, cities and regions.

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They first sailed to parts of the Visayas then to Mindanao last April 27 aboard MV Michael the Archangel, according to the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).

They compose the first batch of seafarers to be brought to their homes through a government program named as Malasakit Help Desk for Filipino Seafarers Balik-Probinsya.

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Eight seafarers would disembark in Iligan City, according to Medardo Sosobrado, Iligan port manager, citing an advisory from 2Go Shipping which owns the Archangel.

Of the eight four are headed to their hometowns in Lanao del Norte province. Two are coming home to the town of Wao, Lanao del Sur province while another two are returning to their homes in Iligan City.

Lanao del Norte Gov. Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo said the provincial government has already prepared “to take care” of the seafarers who hail from the province.

She said the province’s health office had arranged quarantine measures with local governments for the returning seafarers, which meant the travel-weary seamen would have to spend another 14 days away from their families.

Lyndon Calica, Lanao del Norte information officer, said the seafarers would be met at the Iligan port by the province’s health workers and immediately ferried to their hometowns where quarantine awaits them.

Zamboanga del Sur Gov. Victory Yu said the province is always open to returning workers from overseas and other places in the country but are stranded elsewhere.

“We allow them to come back as, after all, they are our constituents, they are our responsibility,” Yu said.

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But he said the returning workers should go on home isolation and heed health protocols once they have returned to the province.

In Misamis Occidental, Gov. Philip Tan initially shut out the seafarers’ homecoming, saying their arrival has no clearance from local authorities.

In a social media post on Monday (April 27) night, Tan complained that the Marina has not coordinated with him about the seafarers’ arrival. But the Inquirer saw an April 27 letter from the regional Marina office informing the governor about the seafarers’ arrival.

The ship ferrying the seafarers was expected to dock at the port of Ozamiz City in Misamis Occidental province where those from the province and nearby Zamboanga del Sur were expected to disembark.

Tan said he feared the seafarers could be carrying coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Prior to boarding the Archangel, the seafarers, who had already completed 14-day quarantine in Manila, had to undergo rapid antibody tests. The tests search for coronavirus antibodies which would mean the test subject had already been infected and developed antibodies against the virus.

The Marina said the tests were given “in compliance with stringent safety protocols and in consideration of the wellbeing of the general public.”

On Tuesday, after meeting with other provincial leaders and health officials, Tan relented and agreed to allow the entry of seafarers hailing from Misamis Occidental.

Edited by TSB

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