PEOPLE who know the industry appreciate the fact that Filipinos make up about 1/3 of all the merchant marine sailors in the world. That’s something we can all be proud of. But we could in fact be prouder still—and benefit from the added remittances—if we also supplied a larger part of the world shipping industry’s roster of officers.
There’s a shortage of merchant marine officers. This shortage is affecting global shipping. And if there were just more qualified Filipino officers they would be hired. So one of the things the government should do is support Filipinos in earning merchant marine officer-class degrees.
Former senator Ernesto “Boy” Herrera, who is president of the largest Philippine labor organization, the Trade Union Council of the Philippines (TUCP), tells us that “The growing manpower shortage, especially in the officer ranks, is serious and has led to a ‘poaching war’ among manning companies.” He recommends that the government and the unions must help upgrade our seafarers so more of them can meet the stricter rules and higher standards of the global maritime industry. That way more Filipino seafarers “could be promoted to officer ranks.”
The TUCP president has worked for this advocacy tirelessly. In a Manila Times column he explained the situation.
“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. [Ratings. All other people without a certificate of competence are called ratings. They assist in all other tasks that can arise during a voyage. This includes for example, mooring, cleaning of the ship and its holds and repairing broken ropes. These are physically challenging jobs and have to be done regardless of the weather.]
“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.”