Going to sea–a decision of his own



Born into a family amctively involved in the maritime industry, Capt. Nino Elson Orola Salabas as a young boy found his feet into seafaring as he regularly encountered merchant marine students in the family-run maritime school, VMA Global College in Bacolod. He recalled joining his mother Dr. Elizabeth O. Salabas in meetings which he said added to his curiosity in all things maritime, but quickly added the decision to go into the maritime profession was his own. He admits to his parents to having subtly suggested that seafaring is a very rewarding career. “There was no pressure from my family to go for maritime education and for that I am grateful to them. To some extent this contributed to my adopting a self-imposed academic target—to be one of the best.”

After obtaining his diploma in Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation (BSMT) in 2001, he joined Leonis Navigation Inc. as a cadet for one year. Thereafter, he joined as Ordinary Seaman the bulker MV Ocean King of the SantokuSenpaku Co. of Japan through its manning agent in the Philippines, Orophil Shipping Co. Except for one voyage from July 2013 to February 2014, Nino up to this time has stayed with Santoku Senpaku Co. which he says maintains a high-quality shipping services and fleet.

Young captain at the helm

While his is not the heartrending story of the boy who opted to get into seafaring hoping to uplift the status of his family, Nino had to confront the issue of favoritism which could be thrown to him in gaining a most favored position in the company his family owns. His ranking as No. 2 in the licensure examination for Master Mariner in 2011 did not help assuage the desire to prove he is his own man. He related the reason for a career detour from Santoku Senpaku to Phil. Synergy Maritime Inc. (PSMI) in 2014 – he wanted to remove any cloud of doubt cast on his ability to assume a shipboard command. He took a leave of absence from Orophil Shipping, the family-operated manning agency and sought employment in another company. He kept the decision from his family the result of which almost alienated him from them. Not even PSMI realized he is a progeny of the Orola-Salabas lineage, a shipping family from Bacolod. He was grateful PSMI took him in and gave him full confidence as they handed him the command of MV Trade Star, his first. At age 31, Nino took to the helm of a handymax bulker. Sooner though and realizing the hurt he caused his mother, the Captain re-joined Orophil Shipping after a year with PSMI; to the latter he remains sincerely indebted.

Sailing has given the young seafarer a chance to work with various nationalities. Prior to his becoming a Captain, he has always worked with mixed crew under the command of either Japanese or Korean captain, and chief engineer. He did not have difficulty working with non-Filipino crew, projecting the typical adaptability of the Filipino. He welcomes the fact that as Master Mariner he had only an all-Filipino crew. To him, they are the best: competent, reliable and conscientious. One trait he noted that makes the Filipino the choice of many shipowners is their humor; they work with a smile.

Taking charge of a ship requires, in addition to technical competency, management skills. Aside from taking upgrading courses required by the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), Nino obtained in 2010 a Master’s degree in Ship Management from the JBLF Maritime University. He also completed the academic requirements for a doctoral course in Philosophy in Maritime Education and hopes to be able to complete the writing of his dissertation.

A family man at heart

Only 35 years old, this Captain has a long seafaring career ahead. Yet, he says he may consider retiring young as he wants to spend more time with his two growing sons. As any merchant mariner, he has to endure long separation from his wife and children although he considers communications technology and social media make connecting with them easier and on a daily basis. Appeals from his young sons to come home though were the most difficult; these sometimes move him to tears. Having a wife who understands his profession help lighten up things; she is there to explain to the children what it is to be a seafarer.

He is aware shore-based employment opportunities for seafarers abound. In 2016, while on vacation from his shipboard job, Nino took a crack at assuming the post of Deputy Port Captain at Orophil Shipping. He is now currently on vacation and is the company’s Port Captain, a job he says he will always wish to take when not sailing. It could also be a good preparation for retirement although that is still a long way off.

Asked if he will encourage his sons to go to sea, he retorted, “as in my case, I will give them the same option as I had: to pursue the career they feel will make them most happy and fulfilled.” He hastily added, “but of course, just as what my parents did, I will make that subtle suggestion that seafaring is a most rewarding profession.”

As for the young men and women who wish to join the merchant marine profession, Nino has this to say: “Seafaring is a tough and perilous profession that one who pursues it must be physically, emotionally and mentally prepared. Yes, there will be challenges; yet, the rewards are great.”


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