AS a shipping vetarn for 40 years, Capt. Jones Tulod witnessed how time and technology plunged the industry into sweeping and permanent changes.
He has sailed through the labor-intensive but somehow relaxed nature of shipping back in the early 1980s, a time when “seafarers are said to be made of steel and ships are made of wood.”
Tulod added sailing the high seas until automation gradually took over the bridge and shifted the seat of power from man to machinery, a period that required many of his younger contemporaries to rely on technology that softened their core. Tulod said he did not expect to see such changes make ships of steel and men of pliable wood nowadays.
When Tulod hung his hat after 26 years of sailing, 14 of which were spent serving Norwegian ships as a captain, when automation in the shipping industry was in full swing that he was quick to draw observation on how greatly it has changed the administrative and operational sides of the ship.
“Seafaring was fun during my early days at sea. We had time to go ashore and relax because ships stay longer in port. There were less paper works, there weren’t much regulatory compliance, there was no redundant training requirements, no audits, security was not much of an issue, and we can even invite friends and family to visit us onboard,” Tulod reflected.
“Today, seafaring is entirely different. It is now all about the fast turn-around of a vessel, computerization, adapting to technology, trainings, audits, port state control inspection, vetting, security and the seemingly endless email from the shore office that the captain has to attend to. Much of his technical work on ship is also being hampered by ‘computer administration,’ something that could really be frustrating for someone who would rather be commanding the ship,” he observed.
With his current role as the president of one of the country’s largest and well-known manning agencies, Thome Ship Management Philippines Inc., Tulod was able to perceive a deeper concern for maritime employers.
“Another daunting challenge in the industry today is the imposition of too much stringent qualification for seafarers. It used to be just a matter of competency, but [ship owners and principals now require] competence and experience for specific vessel types and geographical trading experience. Applicants should also have good medical results, [an acceptable] age, cargo experience, oil majors experience matrix, and many others. It has become an every day struggle of a manning agent to find all those qualifications in a seafarer,” he said.
The outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic had its way of revealing and recalibrating true leadership for many. During this period, Tulod’s level of leadership and vigilance sharpened all the more.
Still with salt in his blood, he empathized with seafarers and their need to immediately get a job or be back home with their families. As with many sailors even from way back, his entry into the maritime industry was spawned by poverty and the motivation to provide a more comfortable life to his family.
Having this in mind, along with the rigorous training and education from the oldest and one of the finest maritime schools in the country, the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy, Tulod reached the peak of his career armed with definitive focus and a sense of servant leadership that guided his principles in ministering to both shipping and manning sectors.
From the old shipping ways to the drastic shift on automation, Tulod now stands to see another shift in the fabric of maritime industry – a pandemic-induced norm for employers and seafarers.
“The crew change crisis has become so complex with the unstable and ever changing government policies and procedures including some non-compliance of other agencies that, in the first place, agreed and approved such protocols,” he said.
Such predicament urged Tulod to be more than just a mere spectator. He strongly advocated for a stronger decision-making process through predictability and alternatives.
“What makes crew change so difficult is the unpredictability of processes and the lack of alternatives. Take for example the indefinite period of release of Covid test results, the delayed issuance of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and immigration clearances, and the lack of flight availability. This was aggravated by the closing of ports other than Manila,” Tulod said, citing the volatile situation with no further alternatives left for employers and seafarers.
His proactive stance in the local manning industry led him to push for procedural improvements that could help alleviate a seafaring crisis that has now reached an alarming global proportion.
“There should be a synchronized understanding of protocols among all government agencies to avoid inconvenience and confusion. We should also ease crew change protocols, as proposed in the Green Lane strategy of the government, by fast tracking the release of RT-PCR [reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction] test results and DFA clearances as this has become a standard requirement for all manning agencies. We can also look into decongesting Manila Bay by opening other strategic ports in the country for crew change,” he explained.
Even as Tulod considers himself a reserved person, his compassion seeped through his chosen façade when he earnestly called on the Filipino seafarers to keep the faith on their manning agents. “Just trust that you are continuously being taken care of and have faith,” he added.