Seafarers’ music in the time of pandemic

Despite the pandemic, music  plays a special role on Filipino seafarers’ life, whether at sea or on land.

It is an understatement to say that karaoke is a central part of  pop culture of Filipinos, including seafarers whether on board or in between contracts.

Karaoke is the clipped compound of Japanese kara (empty) and okesutora (orchestra) that is an  interactive entertainment in which an amateur singer sings along with recorded music  (or a music video) using a microphone.

Karaoke is indeed a favorite past time of Filipino seafarers as one of the  coping mechanisms aboard international and domestic shipping vessels to address stress and boredom.

The sea can’t stop the seafarers in mastering the art of vocal mimicry from contagiously  belting out songs like the infamous “My Way.”

In between contracts, Pinoy seafarers as well as  maritime students  converging at  the Luneta Seafarers’ Welfare Foundation (LUSWELF)  along  Kalaw St.  show their singing prowess through a weekly show organized by volunteers.

The annual  Boses ng Marino Karaoke Challenge pays   homage to the oceans and seas to keep our Filipino seafarers safe in their voyage The  activity  will be an online jamming session  this year due to the COVID 19 pandemic instead of the traditional contest in LUSWELF.under  two categories, students and professional seafarers.

 There will be three sessions  for the online jamming, on September  21 ( Monday)  over  The  Baywatch Live of Asian Institute of Maritime Studies (AIMS) and on September 23 (Wednesday)  and September 25 (Friday) over   Bill Visaya News Channel.

The Philippines is considered as the major supplier of maritime labor globally as it is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five complements on board a vessel at any time.

The estimated 519,031  deployed Filipino seafarers in 2019 per POEA data  remitted  $6.539 billion or around P326.95 billion. The sea-based sector’s remittance comprise at least 22 percent of the total dollar remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). These remittances help spur domestic consumption in the Philippines and a key ingredient in the country’s drive to achieve higher but sustainable growth.

However, away from his family and working on board vessels sailing non-stop for weeks or months the world’s oceans, the Filipino seafarer is physically, mentally and emotionally stressed.

Constantly exposed to fluctuating temperatures caused by variant weather changes of extreme hot and cold as the ships cross ocean boundaries, the risks of his getting killed, injured or ill are high.

Former president Fidel V. Ramos issued on July 9, 1996 Proclamation No. 828 declaring Aug. 18 as National Seafarers’ Day aimed at giving due recognition to the vital role of Filipino seafarers towards the development of the Philippines as a maritime country. Later, Proclamation No. 1094 was issued in 1997 by President Ramos which moved NSD to every last Sunday of September every year.

The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) Philippines was tasked to coordinate with the public and private sectors in activities related to the celebration of said event.

This year’s 25th  NSD is set on Sept. 27, 2020 with the  theme “Seafarers are Keyworkers. You are not alone. You are not forgotten”.

The International Labor Organization ( ILO)  has urged governments to recognize seafarers as ‘key workers’ who ensure the flow of trade and the movement of vital medical supplies, safety equipment, food and other critical goods during the pandemic.

While delivering a key service to society, they face safety and health risks, and, increasingly  physical and mental exhaustion.

Travel restrictions have left hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded at sea, unsure when they will be able to return home. Many are fatigued and weary because their time at sea has been extended for months beyond the maximum stipulated in international conventions.

The Sunday masses during the NSD all over the country are offered to the Filipino seafarers.

Due to  the pandemic, the other traditional  NSD activities nationwide led by AOS will not be held such as oratorical/art contest, search for  the Ten Outstanding Maritime Students of the Philippines (TOMSP) and  the grand parade participated in by stakeholders.The memorials at sea, novenas, and masses will push through.There will also be a year-long monthly webinar on different seafarer issues. 

The NSD coincides with the National Maritime Week celebrated every last week of September spearheaded alternatively by the government agencies Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

(Lawyer Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)