by WILLIAM ALZONA
MANILA (OFW Journalism Consortium)—GIVEN the shortage of maritime officers for international vessels, the manning industry is turning to re-package what its players say is a “wimpy” image of the Filipino seafaring career.
Hence, manning agency executives like Edgardo U. Manese are reaching out to the Philippine media so that, he says, the latter can help “cleanse” the image of Filipino seafarers.
Manese, Magsaysay Maritime Corp. chairman, said the move to tap media was borne out of the agreements during the Philippine Manning Convention in Manila in November.
We admitted we couldn’t solve the shortage of officers on our own, Manese said.
Manese, who is also president of Philippine-Japan Manning Consultative Council Inc., added “recent facts have been unearthed,” supporting that conclusion.
One of these facts is incongruency in data.
“How can we respond [to the shortage of maritime officers] if we could not even take stock of the seafaring industry,” he said.
In short, there is no single database that would allow private and public sectors to have the same actual number of officers and ratings that are both on-board ships and those waiting to be hired.
He said data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration cannot confirm the validity of the actual number of available seafarers and those who are on board.
The POEA is the government agency in charge of regulation of all the overseas Filipino workers.
Menese cited that data from the Professional Regulations Commission also hasn’t been helpful in such task.
He explained the group found out that the POEA only sources its data from the manning firms themselves, many of which are not complying to the disclosure rule that the agency only implemented earlier this year.
A report by manning firms presented during the November convention said six factors hobble the industry’s ability “to reasonably make a more detailed, and accurate estimate of numbers of our actual supply situation.”
The factors include “extreme large volume of data, the use of many different titles and ranks for different positions, the numerous vessel types, the unknown license requirements for special vessels, time constraints, and …non-compliance with POEA’s advisory by some companies.”
IT was also during the convention that manning agencies discovered a huge disparity in figures.
Comparing the number of those with PRC license versus the number of officers on-board and those on vacation, some 43,462 crew members couldn’t be accounted for.
The figure is already close to the more than 48,000 officers reported on board several vessels.
Taking stock of the actual supply of Filipino seafarers on-board and how many more are in the maritime schools were the initial steps in determining if the country can respond to the global shortage of officers.
According to the ISL Bremen for World fleet and the Clarkson Research Studies for Shipbuilding, there will be 7,360 new vessels up for delivery between now and 2012.
With each vessel containing up to 23 crew members, the total demand will be 147,160 crews until 2012 and there will be more by 2015.
The worldwide supply of seafarers in 2005 is estimated to be 466,000 officers and 721,000 ratings, according to the estimates by the Warwick Institute for Employment and Research.
There is a shortage of about 10,000 officers, or two percent of the workforce as of 2005.
The shortage is expected to increase to 27,000 by 2015, or about six percent, according to the study commissioned by the International Shipping Federation and BIMCO, the world’s biggest private shipping organization.
Ratings, on the other hand, have an oversupply of about 20 percent, or between 135,000 to 167,000.
International Maritime Employers Committee president Ian Sherwood believes that the demand for officers were higher than what the study had indicated as a result of the faster delivery of the new and much larger vessels.
It takes around a year to construct a new vessel, but it would take four to eight years to produce a competent seafarer, he said.
This means, the industry has to work harder to respond to the needs.
Trainee officers and engineers need three to five years to qualify for the junior ranks and up to eight years to reach a senior level.
THE Philippines supplies about 28 percent of the world’s fleet, currently the largest by nationality with about 250,000, for both ratings and officers combined.
Far second are crew from the Indian sub-continent, with just over 100,000.
India, however, has started marketing its seafarers to international shipping firms.
According to the presentation of Rajaish Bajpaee, president and managing director of Eurasia Group, during the Second Lloyds Ship Manager (LSM) Manning and Training in India Conference last March, most of the shipping firms are relying on India as a favored source of its current and future seafarer demand.
“India has the means to satisfy the numbers shortage and the Indian academic system provides the strongest foundation for building high standards of skills, initiatives, professionalism and leadership required of the modern seafarers,” he said.
But since the Philippines has the lead in the number of crews on board, and a promising future for those still in schools, international shipping firms are egging their local units or affiliates to effect significant shifts on how the country and the government do its measures on producing a competent crew, in a short span of time.
IMEC has proposed a program to speed up the process of a cadet to become an officer, without sacrificing competency level, by advanced training in school and on-board a vessel.
The number crunching of the domestic manning firms –despite the disparity of the available data– showed that the industry can only produce a total of 28,905 officers ranging from captain to chief engineer from chief mate to first engineer to officer-in-charge positions.
While international shipping firms’ efforts have yet to bear fruit, affiliates are already moving, to the point that manning and other shipping firms are reaching out to the public.
For instance, last November, InterManager, an international association of various ship management firms, called on a press conference to go side by side with the group’s meeting in Manila.
INTERNATIONAL Shipmanagers’ Association (InterManager) president Ole B. Stene said they want to promote the image of the seafaring profession in the entire Philippines.
Stene, who is also managing director of Aboitiz-Jebsen Bulk Transport Inc., said the seafaring profession is viewed as only for the weak, or poorly-performing students.
Parents tend to discourage their children to take the profession, he added.
Stene sad the move to refurbish the image of the profession is aimed at recruiting the brightest from the pool of students to become seafarers.
InterManager, however, still doesn’t have any specific idea on how to carry out such task.
Stene said they plan to promote the profession to graduating high school students starting next year.
The group has joined forces with local group Filipino Association for Mariners’ Employment (Fame) to carry out the plan.
Fame, however, wanted to bring their message of sanitizing the image of the seafarers using the mainstream media.
With no idea of how to carry out the task, Fame president Samuel Lim called for a meeting with reporters and editors covering the shipping and manning industry.
That meeting has been regularly held since November and Lim is banking on this to develop some mechanism for implementation of the media blitz sometime next year.
This move may mean a resurgence in news coverage of the industry or advertising by companies involved.
While that may spell good news for media agencies in the short term, there hasn’t been a study on its benefit for the seafarers or their profession in the long run.
Then again, image, for some, is everything.