Almirante: Hostaged seafarer’s permanent disability claim

Dominador A. Almirante
·3 min read

On Sept. 12, 2010, petitioner Maryville Manila Inc. on behalf of its principal Maryville Maritime Inc. deployed respondent Lloyd C. Espinosa as a seafarer on board the vessel M/V Renuar. On Dec. 11, 2010 to April 23, 2011, Somali pirates held hostage the vessel and its entire crew. On May 5, 2011, the respondent was repatriated. On Jan. 10, 2012, Maryville Manila Inc. rehired him to work on board M/V Iron Manolis for nine months. He was however repatriated after seven months or on Aug. 29, 2012.

On July 15, 2013, respondent filed a complaint for total and permanent disability benefits against petitioner and Maryville Maritime. He alleged that he was repatriated after suffering flashbacks of the hostage incident and experiencing mental breakdown. On Feb. 12, 2015, he sought the advice of a clinical psychologist who diagnosed him with “occupational stress disorder (work-related); hypomanic mood disorder to consider; bipolar condition; R/O schizophrenic episode; and (post-traumatic) stress disorder.”

Upon the other hand, petitioner and Maryville Maritime Inc. averred that respondent voluntarily disembarked from the vessel without any medical incident or accident. He did not immediately report to the company-designated physician after his repatriation. It was only in July 2013 that he visited the petitioner asking for another contract of employment.

Does the claim of respondent find merit?

Ruling: No.

At any rate, there is no substantial evidence on the link between Lloyd’s supposed illnesses and nature of work. Foremost, piracy is a risk confronting all seafarers while in voyage, but the clinical report only made general statements on punishments and deprivation of food, water and liberty. The relationship of the risk and the diseases was not fairly established.

There was no proof or explanation as to how Lloyd acquired the illnesses as a result of the hostage incident. The psychologists hastily concluded that Lloyd’s conditions started after the piracy. Moreover, Lloyd’s actions after the hostage incident are incompatible with the clinical psychologist’s findings. Lloyd was repatriated from M/V Renuar on May 5, 2011 but he applied again and was deployed on Jan. 10, 2012 on board M/V Iron Manolis. There is no indication, during the intervening period of eight months from repatriation to deployment, that Lloyd experienced any sign of the alleged diseases. In fact, Lloyd passed the pre-employment medical examination and was cleared for re-employment. Lloyd even claimed that he “more than fully and ably discharged his duties and responsibilities expected of him on board the vessel.”

Verily, it would be improbable for Lloyd to properly perform his tasks as he claims if he had palpitations, chest pains, tremors, muscle tension, dizziness, upset stomach, fatigue, irritability, restlessness and total lack of sleep. Quite the contrary, these symptoms were belied since Lloyd lasted for seven months in MN Iron Manolis.

All told, Lloyd is not entitled to total and permanent disability benefits for failure to prove that he was repatriated for medical reasons and that a reasonable link exists between his illnesses and nature of work. Absent substantial evidence as a reasonable basis, this Court is left with no choice but to deny Lloyd’s claim for disability benefits, lest an injustice be caused to his employer. The award of compensation and disability benefits cannot rest on speculations, presumptions and conjectures. Although labor contracts are impressed with public interest and the provisions of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Standard Employment Contract must be construed logically and liberally in favor of Filipino seamen in the pursuit of their employment on board ocean-going vessels, still the rule is that justice is in every case for the deserving, to be dispensed with in the light of established facts, the applicable law, and existing jurisprudence. (Maryville Manila Inc. vs. Lloyd C. Espinosa, G.R. 229372, Aug. 27, 2020).