New course for seafarers seen costly

by LEO J. SANTIAGO
www.ofwjournalism.net

MANILA—SO many training courses yet so little to gain.

This is what some seafarers are saying, four months before a few of them would be required to go back inside a classroom, lest they shun getting a marine officer’s license.

They have to decide –and save money– sooner than later since by February next year, the new Management Level Officer’s Training Course for sea-based workers aiming to rise above the ladder, would be implemented.

“It’s an additional expense for us,” Chief Mate (C/M) Rene Sangalang said of the course estimated to cost between P40,000 (US$800) and P60,000 (US$1,200). The figures are equivalent to two to four months of the average US$300 that an Asian Development Bank study said overseas Filipino workers send to the Philippines.

Aside from that, the course also requires Filipino second mate and second marine engineer officers to undergo a 6-week study (for deck officers) and 8-week study (for engine officers). They should finish the course before getting higher-level licenses.

Some seafarers interviewed for this story gave comments if their names wouldn’t see print, saying they’re afraid of reprisals from manning agencies they allege would earn rebates through a referral system.

One explained that some agencies get something from government-accredited training centers by referring seafarers there to study.

Some manning agencies that the OFW Journalism Consortium tried to reach refused to comment.

However, Capt. Constantino Arcellana of the Professional Regulatory Commission said some trainees wouldn’t even shell out the money as “more and more ship owners” are willing to fund the training of their marine personnel.

Arcellana, chair of the PRC Board of Marine Deck, cited major manning groups Filipino Association for Mariner’s Employment and the Phil-Japan Manning Coordinating Council as having pledged support to allay the trainees’ spending fears.

According to the former master mariner, these groups had even sponsored one of the sixth seminars for trainers.

“The course is the answer to Filipino marine officers not taking the management level officer’s exams,” Arcellana said.

Arcellana echoes the multi-government agency Maritime Training Council’s position that the course is complying with the international Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention that the Philippine government a decade ago agreed to comply with.

Atlantis search

THE new course is also assailed by some seafarers because they say it adds to the already-long process workers undergo to get a license from the PRC.

Likewise, C/M Nilo Infante told the OFW Journalism Consortium that it would add to the costs of getting that document where the latest Crewing Managers Association of the Philippines survey pegged at minimum P100,000 for each applicant.

This amount may include the securing and filing of certified documents from several government offices located far from each other.

For instance, a seafarer must get a birth certificate from the National Statistics Office in Quezon City, a diploma from the Department of Education in Manila and a certification that s/he actually graduated from his or her respective college, some of which are outside the country’s main cities.

The seafarer also has to pass a medical examination as well as go to the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila to get a clearance.

At least just three kilometers away is the Maritime Industry Authority or Marina where the seafarer must undergo a basic safety and personal survival training course. Of course, s/he could take this from several training centers that government has accredited to perform as such.

It is also at the Marina where a seafarer applies for a seaman’s book. Every day, at least 600 people do so, Cmap’s survey reveals.

In addition, many times over, an applicant for marine officer’s assessment and certification for licensing at the PRC would take months to finish, Capt. Nestor Vargas of Cmap said.

According to Cmap, it also takes several months for an applicant to achieve the following: get training courses for upgrade of skills, be evaluated each time, take review classes, and undergo a written examination.

Passing the examination, the seafarer finally takes the oath of his/her profession only upon which does the PRC issue the certificate of competency –supposedly the license itself, the Cmap survey bared.

But Arcellana assured that time wouldn’t be lost since the PRC would evaluate candidates for equivalency before they are told to take the course.

Doing so, he added, would avoid duplication of training.
However, Arcellana didn’t say if the PRC would reject re-applicants to the new course.

Hope floats

NONETHELESS, Arcellana believes the course is the silver bullet to fill a shortage of management level officers.

He said the global labor market demands 10,000 of these skilled sea-based workers.

Filipino seafarers who still “lack confidence” and who “lack the knowledge to man the post” will benefit from the program and will sharpen their competitive edge over other nationalities, according to Arcellana.

Not acting to meet that demand, Arcellana said, would force shipowners to go to other sources of skilled labor.

On the other hand, Cmap members are saying an additional training course could only aggravate the shortage of senior officers since the junior officers would be out of the market from one to two months.

“That would deprive the principals of key officers. In two months, they could just go and hire from India, China, and other countries that doesn’t require this course,” Cmap members said.

Already, according to industry sources, they were informed that some manning agencies have arranged with their principals to hire non-Filipinos in the event the former could not get Filipino officers.

That would be the end for Filipino seafarers, Arcellana said.

Participants in a maritime forum this author organized last September voiced out apprehension the alarming global shortage for marine officers would make or unmake the Philippines as the manning capital of the world.

To thwart such threat, they are proposing for the creation of a task force to implement immediate measures in an effort to maintain the Philippines as the top supplier of seafarers worldwide.

Last year, then Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said that education officials have allowed graduates of mechanical and electrical engineering to qualify as marine engineer officers.

Likewise, she said she has marked as urgent the “immediate” implementation of the management level course to answer the needs of industry for management level officers.

According to Department of Labor and Employment Resolution No. 4 of 2005, management level refers to the level of responsibility associated with serving as Master, Chief Mate, Chief Engineer Officer or Second Engineer Officer on board a seagoing ship.
_____________
OFW Journalism Consortium