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The role of Mayor (ship’s cook) in the seafarer’s healthy diet

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | July 07,2020 - 07:00 AM


“Taking responsibility for the health of all human souls on their ships also defines the shipowners’ sense of humanity and justice. No ship sails without a human crew.”

Thus  declared the Supreme Court in the case of Oscar Paringit vs. Global Gateway Crewing Services, Inc. ( G.R. No. 217123, March 28, 2019) where it  pointed out that a crew properly nourished, adequately fit, and enjoying humane working conditions will redound to the benefit of the shipowners.

The proverbial saying ‘you are what you eat’ is the notion that the food one eats has a bearing on one’s state of mind and health.

Without safe, adequate, varied and nutritious meals prepared and served in hygienic conditions, seafarers would not be able to perform their duties effectively on board a ship.

Seafarers are on board vessels in the high seas for a  substantial length of time and food supplies are usually frozen, preserved, smoked, salted and canned meats as these items  are not easily perishable.

On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables cannot last long in the high seas.

A seafarer had no choice of what to eat on board except those provided on the vessels and these consisted mainly of high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber foods. (Leonis Navigation v. Villamater , G.R. No. 179169 March 3, 2010 )

The shipowners are mandated under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC2006) to make sure that food and drinking water supplies shall be suitable in respect of quantity, nutritional value, quality and variety, having regard to the duration and nature of the voyage, the number of seafarers on board as well as their religious requirements and cultural practices as they pertain to food.

MLC2006  recognizes the  need  of ensuring that sufficient food and drinking water of appropriate quality are served on board by qualified and trained catering personnel.

The  ship’s cook, who is more popularly called “Mayor” by his fellow crewmates, is the person whose primary responsibility on board a ship is to prepare food for the crew of the ship.

His role extends beyond the preparation of food to include maintenance of the kitchen and ensuring the cleanliness and hygiene of food and drink preparation areas and the handling and storage of food and stores.

The  ships’ cook must be trained, qualified and found competent for the position through the completion of the  duly approved  training course, which covers practical cookery, food and personal hygiene, food storage, stock control, and environmental protection and catering health and safety.

It is an anecdote among seafarers that the cook is befriended by many so that they can ask extras for the day’s meal.

But the life of a cook, just like any other seafarer, is not always a walk in the park.

In Tamin vs. Magsaysay Maritime Corp.  (G.R. No. 220608, August 31, 2016), while on kitchen duty and chopping pork knuckles for lunch, the chopping knife accidentally slid down and cut the cook’s left forefinger at about 1.5 inches, causing it to detach from the joint bone.

The Supreme Court ruled that the loss of his index finger does not preclude an award for total and permanent disability because, in labor laws, disability need not render the seafarer absolutely helpless or feeble to be compensable. It is enough that it incapacitates him to perform his customary work.

Since his entire left hand was permanently affected, he would not be able to resume his previous occupation and the probability that he would be hired by other maritime employers would be close to impossible.

In Teodoro vs. Teekay Shipping Phil.  (G.R. No. 244721 February 5, 2020), the Supreme Court considered the  loss of vision of the cook’s left eye  as attributable to the sudden extreme changes in temperature from the upper deck to the freezer during the hauling and storage process for the  food provisions.

The panel of voluntary arbitrators pointed out that the company’s personnel were exposed to extreme temperatures without the proper protective clothing, thus, creating a more dangerous work environment that resulted to the seafarer’s permanent blindness in the left eye and his incapacity to resume the same line of work.

The Supreme Court noted that the Grade 7 disability rating assessment by the company-designated physician negates any claim that the non-listed illness is not work-related.

In Torillos vs. Eastgate Maritime Corp. (G.R. No. 215904, January 10, 2019), the Supreme Court affirmed that the illness, lumbar spondylosis, was work connected though it may be degenerative.

The Court ruled that it was aggravated by his work as chief cook whose duties involved heavy manual labor such as carrying the heavy provisions of the ship, preparation and serving of all meals for the entire crew of the vessel, cleaning of dining, kitchen and work areas and of utensils.

(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)

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