Filipino crews

THE Philippines’ status as the largest supplier of seafarers to global shipping will not be affected by coronavirus insists the head of the country’s maritime agency.

Maritime Industry Authority, known as Marina, administrator Robert Empedrad told Lloyd’s List that despite the emergence of coronavirus variant Omicron and uncertainties regarding the duration of the draconian travel restrictions being imposed in key global economies, the country’s deployments of seafarers in 2021 are on track to reach pre-coronavirus levels before the end of this year.

“About 35,000 were deployed in June, and I estimate that we might have reached the pre-coronavirus monthly average of 40,000 in August, September and October,” he said.
Mr Empedrad expressed confidence that the total number of deployments in 2021 will easily surpass the past year’s level of 217,223, which marked a steep fall from 507,730 in 2019. Last year, the Philippines deployed 50,277 officers and 73,328 seafarers to non-maritime or luxury vessels.

His optimism is underpinned by several factors: The high rate of coronavirus vaccination at 80-90% of the country’s seafarers, the return to the almost-normal level of demand for cruiseship crew and the increased number of those who have opted for online training as in-person seafarer education and training was suspended during the lockdowns.To help raise further the number of deployments, Marina also put in place a scheme that enabled seafarers to renew online their government licence to work on ships overseas. Mr Empedrad said that while there seems to be no end in sight to the draconian lockdown measures in key global economies, this has not deterred the country’s seafarers.

“Filipinos have a reputation for putting their family’s welfare well above their personal interests. I haven’t seen any indication of hesitation or doubt among our seafarers about whether or not they will press ahead with their work aboard ships across the world in spite of the persistent coronavirus problem,” he said. “Their degree of comfort is very high, especially because we have been forging agreements with their employers for their vaccination even as our government is taking measures to ensure their health is adequately protected.”

He said there was no indication to support speculation about job losses in the sector due to coronavirus. “The total amount of foreign exchange earnings that they sent home in 2020 amounted to $6.4bn, only $100m less from the 2019 level. The small fall indicates that the number of Filipino seafarers at work in ships across the world in 2020 remained very substantial since many presumably simply extended their contracts with employers due to their failure to return home because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions,” he said. Mr Empedrad believes bright prospects lie ahead for the country’s deployment of seafarers to global shipping.

“Demand for seafarers around the world is expected to increase further amid the likelihood of further expansion of sea trade and forecasts by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development of a shortage of seafarers over the next three to five years,” he said.“We intend to cash in on this excellent opportunity by increasingly tapping our huge pool of active seafarers and raising further their service quality standards. We also intend to rationalise 90 maritime schools that produce an annual average of 25,000 seafarers and we may reduce the number of these institutes. We have also eliminated the previously compulsory onboard training to speed up the production of seafarers,” he said.  The deployment of vaccine boosters against coronavirus variants will also help raise deployment numbers as seafarers get a stronger sense of health protection, he added. “And among our youth, working on ships across the world and earning foreign exchange, which is far higher than what they can earn from domestic jobs, remains very enticing,” he said. .

He acknowledged competition from China, India and Indonesia in seafarer supply to global shipping, but cited the government’s sustained optimism in the country’s retention of its dominance. “While China churns out an increasing number of seafarers, many are deployed in its domestic shipping,” he said.

Source : Lloydslist