As the first Senior Filipino officer in a German fleet, Capt. Federico Lacaste de la Cruz is indeed the face of international shipping. The Pangasinan native personifies the grit, flexibility, loyalty and enduring spirit of a worker, having logged 33 years of uninterrupted service as a seafarer to vessels owned by the Döhle Group which he joined from the time of his graduation from the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA).
It is a testament to his dedication and loyalty to the Döhle Group, one of the leading providers of shipping services worldwide and which operates a modern fleet of around 500 container vessels, multi-purpose vessels and bulk carriers. When the Döhle Group started hiring nationalities to man the growing fleet, De la Cruz was one of the first non-German crew members to be hired.
A man of few words, the seasoned seaman narrates the travails and challenges that came his way before becoming a seafarer. Coming from a family of very modest means, De la Cruz did not finish high school. He took odd jobs, first as a construction worker, then as househelper. There was no choice, he muses, because back then, companies would only hire high school graduates. Like most poor Filipinos, he had to earn his keep and toil his way around. He relentlessly applied for work, but it seemed nobody was willing to take a risk with a non-high school graduate. The break came when he heard from a cousin that PMMA was accepting students. He took the examination and passed.
Work in a German shipping company
After graduating from the academy, he became a cadet in one of the manning agencies which at that time was battling the effects of a bad shipping recession. He remembers, “shipboard jobs were slow to come by and aafter a brief stint as a cadet, I joined Hammonia, my first job as a seaman for the Döhle Group.”
In his work for the German-owned company, Capt. De la Cruz cites mutual respect as the most important factor. “They treated me well and I saw how they valued my contributions to the company. Work was always there for me when I needed to get onboard again. I have learned to adjust on issues that arise from situations where I have to deal with different nationalities.”
De la Cruz emphasizes that in order to have a healthy relationship between the employer and crew, “we should not be so conscious of what our company can do for us but rather, what we can do to make our companies better.”
For him, the greatest achievement was being recognized for his contribution to the growth of the company. A beaming De la Cruz says that as a Filipino, this gives great pride and a much-needed boost to our renewed claim of being the number one crew choice for shipowners all over the globe. This is in light of the resurgence of threats to our position as number one supplier of qualified crew.
A mixed crew
Though there are still no full Filipino crew members on vessels owned by the Döhle Group, De la Cruz observes that there are more Filipinos being given officer positions, some promoted to the rank of Master. This means dealing with German Chief Mates and Second Engineers. Other than Filipinos, Döhle’s mixed crew includes Poles, Romanians and Ukrainians.
Working with a mixed crew, De la Cruz says, can be quite challenging though certainly interesting. He adds, “as ship Master, one assumes the role of father of the crew, helping to solve differences that may arise between and among them. It’s quite understandable that there are nationalities that cannot work and mix well with others. It’s a deep cultural thing, mixed with different issues like religion and values in life. But as Master, you have to do your best; if work is compromised because of having a mixed crew onboard, your capability as a Master can be put to question.” He said he believes that there should be no serious problem in having and managing a mixed crew, “as long as there is respect for each other’s culture.” De la Cruz further adds, “I do notice the differences, but you need to come up with something to bridge the gap. As a Master, you are the father. Mga anak mo sila. (They are your children).”