Seafarers play a big role in the Philippine maritime industry’s success. As such, shipping companies should be able to sustain the outstanding quality and performance of every officer and crew that man their vessels by requiring continuous education and training, strictly implementing international shipping standards, and adhering to obligations concerning human welfare, as well as setting up sufficient safeguards and security measures at work. This is in addition to providing commensurate and competitive salaries that will help improve their morale and motivation.
Alfher John Hernandez, a native of Camarines Norte province, is a seafarer who performed various maritime jobs onboard oil tankers from 2000 to 2004. In 2005, as a newly married man, he took a big leap of faith, went ashore, and had a short stint as an instructor in maritime institutes. In 2006, he joined his wife, a nurse from Pampanga province, in Singapore and was employed in various shipyards (Keppel, Drydocks World), chemical tankers and offshore vessels. He is now a technology superintendent in Japanese fleet-bulk carriers and reefer containers.
Hernandez said those seriously considering long-term careers at sea should strive to hone their skills and realize their potential. He added that they can also consider pursuing other competencies that will make them eligible for other relevant maritime-related activities that are not necessarily seafaring in nature.
“As long as you enjoy what you do and have quality time with your family, you will find fulfillment in your work, whether onshore or offshore. The ocean is vast, and at the end of the day we need to see dry land. What matters is we make good use of the resources God provides us as His stewards,” he said.
There are several factors that affect the well-being and productivity of seafarers. The very nature of their work exposes them to psychosocial hazards. These include cultural differences, especially if they’re hired to work in international vessels, and language barriers, which result in the lack of social interaction and isolation. When they perform their duties onboard, they have to contend with boredom and loneliness, which may affect their mental health.
Because the state of the seafarers’ mental health is a key concern in maritime safety, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) established guidelines on how it should be properly dealt with. Ship owners and manning agencies should be able to address these concerns in order to help seafarers cope with and survive not only the hardships at sea, but also to improve their interpersonal relationships with their co-workers and superiors.
The Philippine government recognizes the significant role of maritime human capital in the inclusive growth of its economy. It is the premier supplier of world-class seafarers that number about 700,000 and who have contributed about $5.5 billion to the country’s economy. This makes up more than 20 percent of the total overseas Filipino worker (OFW) remittances in 2014. Other countries attempt to surpass the Philippines’ accomplishments in the maritime manpower market, but the country continues to take the lead. The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) has issued an average of 182,000 seafarer identification and record books (SIRB) annually since 2012.
Because of the importance of marine manpower in boosting the economy, the Marina strives to be more responsive to the needs of the sector. In fulfillment of its mandate to maintain the premier and global competitiveness of Filipino seafarers, the agency strictly implements and monitors the compliance of shipping and manning agencies with international maritime laws, such as the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) 2010 (Manila Amendments).
In its recently launched 10-year Maritime Integrated Development Program (MIDP), which it considers the roadmap for the maritime sectors, the Marina aims to ensure adherence to both local and international shipping standards concerning not only the seaworthiness of vessels, but more important, focuses on the protection and promotion of the human resource in the industry. There are about 132 accredited training centers and institutes that provide mandatory training programs for seafarers to complete their required certification.
Aside from the Marina, there are other agencies that provide assistance to seafarers. One is the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), which undertakes various technical education and relevant training programs aimed to improve and enhance the competence of maritime manpower.
Another is the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA),which implements education, welfare, and other assistance programs for sea-based workers.
Other than the above regulators, oversight and implementing agencies, the shipping companies, and manning agencies have more direct and bigger responsibilities, as well as jurisdiction to ensure the well-being of seafarers.
Capt. Gilbert Garcia, general manager of Senator Crewing (Manila) Inc. (SCM), Filipino-owned, Manila-based manning agency, explained that in his company’s almost three decades of successful operations, it consistently gained recognition from international shipowners that prefer to hire first-rate Filipino seafarers.