On Saturday morning sailors from ports around Norway and Scotland converged at Bergen Airport, Flesland. Some of them have spent 1-2 weeks in Bergen while awaiting their flight home to the Philippines.
“I have been stranded at a hotel here in Bergen for almost two weeks. It has been frustrating not being able to go home. Thankfully, we have had the support of our company, they have made sure that we have accommodation and food. And now we are finally going home to the Philippines”, says Francisco M. de Jesus, a sailor returning home from Bergen.
Pregnant wife at home
It is no wonder that Jesus is eager to return home. In Calumpit Bulacan, their hometown in the Philippines, his pregnant wife is expecting their second child in three to five days. Jesus hopes that he can get home before his wife gives birth.
Getting home in time for his wife’s birth could be a longshot. He has a flight of over 20 hours between him and his hometown – including stopovers in Riga in Latvia, Navoi in Uzbekistan, and Calcutta in India. In addition, he has to be in quarantine for 5 days when he arrives in Manila. Just like the other passengers travelling with one of OSM Aviation’s charter flights from Bergen, he will be tested for covid-19 and if the test is negative, he will be able to go home.
“I still feel like I am among the lucky few who have made it onboard this flight. Now I am excited to see my family again”, says de Jesus, he hopes the pandemic will soon have passed so the economy can start to recover – and we can return to our normal lives again.
Weekly charter flights
The COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the entire globe and simultaneously caused seafarers across the world to end up in a long-lasting quarantine. After completing their contracts, they have not been able to get ashore and return to their home countries. The risk of infection has caused them to be stuck onboard their ships. For some of these sailors the quarantine has lasted since December 2019.
OSM Maritime has 15.000 employees, 50 different nationalities and manage over 600 vessels all over the globe. The pandemic created challenges in the maritime industry causing seafarers to extend their shifts onboard due to global border restrictions.
The charter aircraft that will be flying Francisco M. de Jesus and the 162 other seafarers back to the Philippines is just one of many chartered flights of this nature. Last week over 300 crewmembers were sent home via Flesland, and according to Karim Ayari, sales manager at OSM Aviation, there will be weekly departures throughout the summer from Bergen to Manila.
“Our team organizes international charter flights to help stranded sailors and other international workers get home to their families”, says Ayari. His job is among other things to make them as cost-efficient and flexible as possible.
Did you know that OSM Aviation offers charter flights to and from anywhere in the world? Click here to learn more.
Mr. Ayari continues to explain that OSM Aviation collaborates closely with the Philippine Embassy in Oslo to organize repatriation flights for Philippine nationals. The embassy has been helpful with organizing landing permits for these flights.
Thinking about my family
A bit further back in the check-in line Eugene Demillo, Allan M. Areilano, Darwin Oliveros and Allan Tatoy are having a conversation.
Demillo has been onboard since December. Due to the coronavirus he had to spend 3 months longer onboard his ship. He recently married and is looking forward to seeing his family again. A son from a former marriage lives and works in Canada, so it will not be long until the whole family is united.
“I haven’t seen my family in seven months. The worst part is to away from them for so long. You constantly think about your family and if they are safe”, says Demillo.
His colleague Allan Areilano has been away from home for four months. He was given two additional months of quarantine. It has been tough to be stranded and away from family for this long. He has a wife and a child now waiting for him in the Philippines.
“They are fortunately doing well; I look forward to seeing them again.”
Quarantined upon arrival
In the other end of the departure hall, in line for passport control by the police, is Jeronimo Rodrigo. He has been sailing with a Norwegian carrier since 1998.
“It’s great working Norwegian companies. Norwegians are friendly and hardworking people”, he ascertains. It has now been five months since Rodrigo has been home in the Philippines.
“It’s not fun to be away for this long, but the biggest problem has been that we haven’t been able to leave our ships.”
Rodrigo arrived in Bergen on the 23rd of June and has been on a supply ship since then. Now he is happy to be on his way home. Rodrigo explains that he is single and is going home to his mother.
It will take another two days before that happens. Just like the others he will be placed in quarantine when he comes home to Manila – and he will be tested for COVID-19. Rodrigo lives on the island Iloilo, in the south of the Philippines. When he arrives in Iloilo, he will be placed in quarantine again.
By the check-in counter the line is moving forward, and Nina Bøe is checking her list to confirm that all the passengers have checked in. She knows many of them personally after visiting many ships around the world.
“It has been difficult to help people get out of the country, in fact, the most challenging part has been to get them ashore due to the visa-offices being closed.”, Bøe explains.
Karim Ayari points out that OSM Aviation is monitoring the situation daily. “We are doing our utmost to support those who are stranded in any way we can. It is incredibly meaningful work for us to help these people return home to their loved ones.”
Soon the last of these seafarers have checked in – and Bøe has ticked all the names on her list. The aircraft, an Airbus A320, is waiting at the gate. In a few hours it will be ready for boarding, the gate will close, and before long the aircraft will taxi towards the runway. 163 Filipinos will finally be on their way home.