SEAFARING, for some archaic reasons, was used to be seen by the public as a profession fit only for the dull. Over the years, however, shipping has become the first among global industries to ride the waves of technological and digital change that required the strongest and brightest to man its fleet.
Among this exceptional breed of seafarers is a young Bicolano whose passion for learning and interacting is insatiable even for a pandemic to contain.
Yrhen Bernard Balinis is an ordinary seaman (OS) — someone who oversees the upkeep and seaworthiness of a ship based on international standards.
But unlike any other OS, Balinis holds multiple titles under his belt.
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He was appointed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as a maritime goodwill ambassador last December 2021 to advocate for the maritime industry and seafaring profession. He was the youngest in his group of fellow goodwill ambassadors.
Balinis is the only Filipino and the youngest advisor for the London-based Human Rights at Sea until the Royal Institute of Navigation absorbed him to become one of the committee members of its Younger Members' Group (YMG).
He is also the only Filipino council member of the Nautical Institute's Younger Members' Council and an ambassador for Maritime UK.
Last year, Balinis was adjudged by Mission to Seafarers as Cadet of the Year during the Seafarers Awards.
He also contributes articles for numerous foreign maritime journals and serves as a public speaker for international maritime conferences and webinars.
What made these accomplishments remarkable is that they all came from a 23-year-old seafarer who has only sailed the high seas thrice. Balinis, at the onset of his maritime education, even deduced himself unworthy of the profession as he was a reedy, bookish boy.
"Had you met me in high school, you would never think that I would embark on a maritime profession. I am neither agile nor strong, qualities that I presumed essential to be a seafarer," Balinis said.
Further on his journey as a cadet at the Mariners' Polytechnic Colleges in Albay, Balinis realized that the tides of time have shifted the fundamentals of seafaring from brawns to brains. The young man, thereon, grew to become a well-rounded, internationally competent and exceptionally conversable seafarer.
His hunger for knowledge and passion to communicate was such that the pandemic, which crippled most of the world, only fueled his desire to be relevant.
"I am a person who would not sit idly in a corner. So, when Covid-19 locked me in my home, I went abroad through the Internet! I attended so many webinars and online conferences, I participated in the discussions and got in touch with the panel through their email and LinkedIn accounts. I expanded my network," Balinis said.
"My frustrations that the pandemic had me off-track turned out to be one of my life-changing routes! Indeed, God will not waste the waiting," he added.
The young man's efforts to learn and network landed him writing positions in international maritime journals, a dream he once had as a child.
"I was a campus journalist from elementary to college. I would have been a journalist if I did not become a seafarer," he shared.
Today, Balinis sees all his accomplishments as a beacon of responsibility to do more.
"I am not done yet. I will need all the help I can get to shine awareness on the industry that has long deserved its recognition and appreciation and to instill pride in the maritime profession for all generations. I firmly believe that we, the future maritime professionals will soon be the key drivers of the industry," he concluded.