While sailing with an Educational Bookship from the Solomon Islands to Papua New Guinea, it was discovered that the next port of entry into the Philippines had been changed. All the ship’s crew passports needed new visas to be stamped in them. How could this be actioned and by whom? The contact in the PNG Government, who had been assisting previously, was now on leave. . Thus the ship’s officers were looking for a person to guide this process safely to conclusion. I began to realise that maybe I was “that person”. It was during my holidays from International School teaching, so I had time to offer help. Although I had only been on the vessel for a couple of days – originally intending to spend about a month or two onboard – I felt that I should offer to assist. I knew the country, the culture, the people, the capital and Pidgin English, the second language in the nation.
Once in the capital city, carrying all 120 passports of the crew and staff in my briefcase, I visited the Philippine Embassy. They apologised that their stock of application forms had been exhausted. The new ones would only arrive in a week’s time on the regular flight from Manila. Thinking creatively, I enquired if they would accept duplicated copies, if I could arrange for some to be printed. I was assured this would be fine for the staff onboard the vessel. However, the crew would need to use the large size official crew-visa form which would be difficult to copy. However, I agreed to have a photocopy made of the crew-visa form and off I went to commence production.
The duplication of the staff visa application forms was fairly straightforward. It just took time. The crew-visa was another story!! I searched high and low to locate a store that could photocopy such a large form and at last found one. However, although they were normally well able to tackle the task – as they were official mapmakers – their machine was faulty and would not speedily be functional again. However, I was able to photocopy it in sections and sellotape them together. I was trusting that the officials at the Embassy would accept this creative look-alike
Thankfully, they did!!
The next task was filling out all the staff application forms. Also they would require signing on behalf of the Captain, with an accompanying letter of authority from him. A small team of three worked late into the night to complete this assignment. In the morning, all the documents were submitted and accepted. After a couple of days, we were able to collect the passports again with all the relevant visas stamped in them. A job well done and the Embassy was pleased to have the extra copies of the application forms we had printed as well as the master-stencil. Obtaining visas every 2-3 weeks for the ship’s company is a colourful, ongoing challenge. Each application calls for fresh creativity, generous amounts of time and good relationships with immigration authorities around the world.