Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Norwegian Debacle

A little more than a week ago, I was informed by my company's Miami office that I am being offered a job onboard another ship called P&O Azura. I looked up the itinerary of the ship and I was amazed that ship is in fact now in the Caribbean docked in Barbados and is going transatlantic soon and going on a whirlwind tour of almost the entire European continent reaching as far as north as St. Petersburg, Russia and going around the Greek Isles in the Mediterranean. What an opportunity, I thought! I said yes even if I knew the cruises were long (usually averaging 15 days long) which from experience doesn't bode well for the spa, and the clientele is mostly British guests (they don't tip).

So now... I thought this would be so easy right, I have all the paperwork all I have to do is renew my medical. Boy... I haven't been SOOOO wrong.

Steiner's  Manila Agent is affiliated with its (almost) exclusive Industrial/Occupational Medicine arm. Unfortunately, they were not accredited to issue a Norwegian Maritime Directorate Health Certificate which is being required of me by this particular ship company. (I have worked before for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and their medical was extensive but was simple to obtain.) So I was referred to the American Outpatient Hospital Inc.(AOH) which was accredited.

Because my local agent was not connected with AOH they accepted me on an outpatient basis. I started my medical 17th February 2011, I was done the following morning. Unfortunately that was a Friday. They said I had to wait for at least 3 working days for the results of the medical. Time was running out. After they released my "certificate" I was informed by my principal from Miami that it needed to include my actual laboratory results and that their exams were "incomplete" compared to the one's the ship requiring. I wondered why the fuck isn't something with a very nice proper name: Norwegian Maritime Directorate Health Certificate isn't standardized internationally?! Is there a difference on the extent of the laboratories/exams required for a certificate issued in Miami vs. Manila???

I went back to AOH to ask for my actual laboratory exams... they said they don't release it to outpatient clients. I understand their protocol actually. Commonly, the company forwards the results directly to the manning agencies to prevent the seafarers/potential employees from falsifying their documents. But my reasoning behind this is: (1) I do have an agency, (2) AOH was the one who decided to put me on outpatient basis for the sole fact that my agency is not affiliated with them. Am I being discriminated because of my agency? Is this politics amongst Philippine industrial clinics corporations? I think I, as a client deserve the same service as among any other person applying for a health certificate. Is that something unreasonable?

I was made to sit in a waiting area for 3 hours to await a decision by whoever whether to release the laboratories to me or not. After 3 hours I had to speak up. They decided to give it to me. I admire the compassion of the employee who did it. There wasn't anything wrong with that. People who don't pass the exams don't get released anything at all so there is no use to protect against results when all they give out are good ones. Would a person falsify their results to become.... uhmmm ineligible for work???

A note: I thoroughly admire how the Filipino seafarers sit through this entire process just to be able to work abroad. From applying for a seaman's book, to doing the trainings, doing the medicals. It's all one long red tape and money making process at all steps.

2 days after, when I thought all was well... I was informed that the results was missing some pages again. This time, it was the questionnaire I was to answer. I checked the manual Steiner gave me. They indeed require it. The reason, I don't know, though I don't question them about it. The form is stamped at the top though... This Form is to be Kept by the Doctor according to the rules of blah blah blah... Well it's not supposed to be released to me anyway. But I had to ask AOH. People have been required of this before and they were able to deliver. Why not now.

I went back to AOH to ask for the forms. I arrived 8 am in the morning was first in line and was told the matter had to be forwarded to the medical director for approval. He would arrive 1330H. I left and attended to other errands. I arrived back at 1230H and waited until the medical director arrived... at 1630H!!! I was waiting just to ask permission to get some additional pages from my already ISSUED health certificate but to my surprise I was informed that I was not supposed to be issued one in the first place. Instead of going ballistic, I just was so exhausted over the days of running around for this trip that I just went quiet. I gave up. The director talked to me, informed me that the Norwegian Embassy only allows certain agencies to get the NIS (Norwegian Health Certificate) for their seafarers and Dolphin (My company) wasn't one of them. So instead of having an incomplete certificate he confiscated the one already issued and crossed it out. Well I couldn't do anything anymore could I. Not even if he was my school mate it was the mandate of the Norwegian Embassy in the Philippines and all the health certificates they issue had a serial number registered with the embassy.

Uhmmm Dear American Hospital Inc. isn't it your responsibility to inform me that I couldn't be issued this certificate at the first time I entered your door instead of wasting my 10 weeks prep time so you can tell me 1 day before my flight that I don't particularly deserve this certificate. Your mission on your wall says you intend to give total satisfaction and quality service to your clients. Well please feel free to call me up if you want testimonies for your wall..

So here I am, with an exhausting flight to New York passing through Dubai instead of the Pacific. To find my own hotel after arriving in Barbados. With two luggages and two carry-ons waiting for news. And with no health certificate that is needed before I can board the ship. Yipee...

I think I don't want to go anymore...

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