The Philippines has been the world’s chief supplier of sailors since 1987.
A study made by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimates the number of worldwide seafarers today at 1.5 million, with 440,000 of them being Filipinos, meaning for every 4 seafarers worldwide, 1 is Filipino.
The top 10 sources of remittances from Filipino sailors in the first semester were: the United States ($1.326 billion); the United Kingdom ($237.583 million); Germany ($194.844 million); Norway ($183.529 million); Japan ($149.295 million); Greece ($141.452 million); Hong Kong ($123.084 million); Singapore ($110.194 million); The Netherlands ($45.726 million); and Italy ($23.511 million).
Filipinos are the “most wanted” seafarers in the world mainly because they are proficient in English and are well trained.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines expects Filipino sailors aboard foreign merchant ships to send home via bank wire a record $5.5 billion this year, mainly on account of increased deployment to Europe.
A growing number of Filipino sailors are being dispatched to Europe, especially to the United Kingdom, Germany,
Norway, Greece, and The Netherlands.
Remittances from Filipino sailors already hit $2.746 billion from January to June this year, an increase of $223 million, or 8.84 percent, versus the $2.523 billion that they wired home in the same six-month period in 2013.
Cash transfers from sailors grew twice faster compared to the remittances from land-based migrant Filipino workers in the first semester.
The $223-million jump in remittances from sailors accounted for 36 percent of the aggregate increase in cash transfers from all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), both on land- and sea-based, in the first semester.
The remittance growth was due to a boost in hiring. Some of the increase may also be attributed to rising inflation here at home, prompting sailors to send more money to their families to enable them to cope with the surge in food and other consumer prices.
TUCP, whose labor center includes the Philippine Seafarers’ Union (PSU), has been batting for the aggressive deployment of sailors, nurses and other surplus skilled workers to foreign labor markets, to help ease domestic joblessness and promote a rising standard of living for Filipino families.
We prefer the deployment of highly skilled surplus labor because they tend to enjoy superior conditions of employment. Since their skills cannot be easily replaced, they are treated well by employers.
But even seafarers have to continue their training to comply with standards and to take advantage of opportunities posed by the shortage of officers that manage international vessels.
Because while the Philippines supplies about 30 percent of the world seafarer population, most of these are ratings, or those seafarers not in the management positions of vessels that operate the ships hand in hand with the captain.
On simulations conducted by the local manning industry, the country can only produce less than 1,000 seafarers a year for the combined engine and deck officer positions.
Various manning groups in the global shipping industry report a shortage of officers despite the slump in the world economy, which caused some ship owners to scrap vessels and delay or suspend their ship orders.
The shortage was expected to have reached 42,000 officers last year, assuming a fleet growth of just 4 percent due to various cancellations. It could be more if the fleet grew more.
The growing manpower shortage, especially in the officer ranks, is serious and has led to a “poaching war” among manning companies.
The government and the unions must help our seafarers meet the stricter rules and standards of the global maritime industry so that more of them could be promoted to officer ranks.