The future has already arrived for shipping, and for many Filipino seafarers who make up at least 30 percent of the world’s mariners, this poses trouble as automation and artificial intelligence can displace warm bodies onboard vessels.
On the contrary, Tore Henriksen, the president and managing director of
Döhle Shipmanagement Phils. Corp., believes that the future should be handled with courage and competence, instead of fear.
“I don’t think we should fear the future. We have to accept that things are changing as it had before. Nothing happens overnight and so does change,” the Norwegian executive said in reference the gradual developments in the industry. “Shipping is all about people and its technological advancements point to the people who drives it; it doesn’t keep us out of the picture,” he added.
The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in shipping has actively seen the steady shift in occupational chain from vessels to shore-based jobs backed by technology.
This, according to Henriksen, underlines the significance of seafarers all the more as technology feeds on human intellect and competence.
“We need to be competent just as when we upgraded our navigating skills before. Our seafarers used to sail using paper charts until the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) was implemented; everyone had to step up with it and we had no problems doing that. We are experiencing the same today and as always, we will adapt,” he explained.
Henriksen furthered that change, regardless of the industry, is evolutionary, not revolutionary. “There are thousands of commercial ships plying the world’s oceans in different circumstances. Modern technology cannot be employed on all of those overnight because it first has to be commercially viable. When it comes, I believe that technology is much for the benefit of everyone than a threat.
“It is human nature to think that things are better before, but it is not. On the contrary, life for seafarers is getting better; we now have the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) which helps them a lot. In general, we should remember that life has never been better on planet Earth than it is right now. Fewer poor people and less illness, but we tend to forget that because we fear change,” Henriksen furthered.
Putting a premium on people
Henriksen’s firm stance on the importance of manpower in shipping stems from more than a decade of working alongside seafarers, manning agents and shipping executives when he moved from the Royal Norwegian Navy to the merchant marine industry in 2008. Come 2010, he started working with the Philippine maritime industry with a direct focus on people.
“It is important in all business to realize that the most important asset is people, their development and the work-life balance. We realize that we need to see our employees as individuals.
“I am also content with what I’m doing, I think shipping is a very exciting industry; it is the most global industry of them all with thousands of years of history. Today, it is a lot more exciting because the days when we could limit ourselves is over. While we still need to be profitable, we also need to accept the fact that businesses also have wider responsibility to the people, the country and the environment.
Over the years, Henriksen observed and learned how the Filipinos share a personal affinity with the sea, a trait that made them successful mariners. “They are people who take their jobs seriously and like the Norwegians, they have grown up close to the sea. That is also part of their success,” he said.
Nonetheless, the executive quipped on the initial adjustments on cultural communication barriers he experienced upon arriving in the country. “We communicated differently. From where I come from, people pride themselves of being frank, whereas here, Filipinos tend to be too more circumspect of their words that being frank can sometimes be taken as rude,” he smiled at the memory and noted that all cultural barriers can be overcome by meeting in the middle.
“It is interesting to note that the Philippines and Norway, when it comes to square meters, are exactly the same size. Here, you are more than a hundred million people while in Norway, we are only a little over five million. A much crowded society needs more social skills.,” he observed.
The Norwegian executive, outside all his accomplishments and titles, enjoys a good motorcycle ride across the country, crossing the vast plains of an island to another with the awe and wonder of a true nature and travel lover. Henriksen shared how he would spend eight weeks traveling around Luzon and Visayas with his motorcycle, with no definite destination or itinerary. “It was fantastic and I had the great sense of freedom,” he quipped.
The shipping executive is also into woodworks during his down time from work.
When asked as to how he would guide seafarers and manning agents into 4IR, he immediately stated that no one should ever fear the future. “History shows that change is always to our advantage; to resist change is futile. Instead we must focus on the fact that the world is changing and we should be a part of it, we should prepare accordingly.
“One of the issues of shipping is that only one percent of directors in shipping are women.
This means that as an industry, we have failed to engage half the world’s population and intellect, and this is crucial for the future. We must be able to engage that other half because we need diversity, to use their intellectual potential.
“The world is a better place today than it has ever been before. We must not forget that there are still a lot to address; we should not forget that mankind has gone a long way.