Seafarer’s diet and kidney cancer –

A seafarer’s working conditions on board the vessel, including his dietary provisions, can aggravate or increase the risk of contracting ailments like kidney diseases.
In Caraan vs Grieg Philippines, Inc. (G.R. No. 252199 May 5, 2021), the Supreme Court granted total permanent disability benefits to a seafarer diagnosed with kidney cancer as it identified his dietary provisions as one of the causes of said illness.
The seafarer has worked with the principal for eight years. During his last contract, he experienced pain while urinating and discharged blood in his urine.
Upon reaching a convenient port in Japan, he was given medical attention where he was initially diagnosed with urinary tract infection (UTI) and chronic prostatitis.
He was declared unfit to work and got medically repatriated. Upon his arrival in Manila, the manning agency did not fetch him at the airport so he just went straight home to Bataan.
Months later, he was diagnosed with hypertension and renal cell carcinoma in his left kidney.

The company denied liability for disability benefits as it argued that the illness is not work-related.
Companies usually deny liability for payment of disability or death benefits on questions whether or not the illness is work-connected under the POEA Standard Employment Contract.
They argue that there are only three types of cancers listed under Section 32-A as occupational diseases: cancer of the epithelial lining of the bladder; cancer, epithellematous or ulceration of the skin or of the corneal surface of the eye; and acute myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
However, compensability is not limited to listed occupational diseases.
For as long as the seafarer is able to show by substantial evidence that he suffered disabilities occasioned by a disease contracted on account of or aggravated by working conditions, compensation is availing.
He must establish his right thereto by substantial evidence or “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
In the instant case, the seafarer was able to establish by substantial evidence the compensability of the illness, its work-connectedness and that he suffered from it during the term of his contract. The employer failed to adduce any evidence to refute his allegations.
The Court ruled that the seafarer’s working conditions on board the vessel aggravated or increased the risk of contracting the kidney disease his kidney ailment.
As to his dietary provision, the Court took note of the fact that seafarers could only eat the food available on board which consisted mainly of high-fat, high-cholesterol, low-fiber foods, salt-cured fish, and preserved meat in can.
The seafarer’s arduous nature of job entails strenuous physical activities or hard manual labor for an extended period of time such as: sounding of tanks; assisting in all maintenance works; lifting of heavy loads; cleaning of incinerators, septic tanks, and engine room using strong cleaning solutions; checking the engine temperature daily, refilling of tanks of oil and lubricants; monitoring all running motors and machineries.
It was physically and mentally demanding especially during monitoring all motors, engine, equipment, and condition of the vessel.
He was directly exposed to all forms of toxic fumes such as asbestos and gases, and excessive noise inside the engine room.
His continuous job precludes urination as he had to endure the call of nature due to the demands of his work. Given his 8 years of employment with the company and the conditions he was subjected to as a seafarer, the Court ruled that the illness can be attributed to his work.
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 ) “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”, declared the  Court in Paringit vs. Global Gateway (G.R. No. 217123, March 28, 2019). It also pointed out that a crew properly nourished, adequately fit, and enjoying humane working conditions will redound to the benefit of the shipowners.
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.
(Atty,  Dennis R. 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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