“Never let yourself be diverted,” the famous British mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell, said in a 1959 BBC interview, “either by what you wish to believe, or what you think could have beneficent social effects if it were believed; but look only and solely at what are the facts.” His sage advice is worth keeping in mind when it comes to the quirky world of Philippine ship manning. Here are 10 facts that may surprise foreigners and even Filipinos:


Many Filipinos take pride in the Manila-Acapulco Spanish galleon trade which ran for 250 years from 1565 to 1815 — overlooking the fact that their forebears who worked on board the galleons were conscripted labour. Shipboard conditions were so bad that many of the Filipino crew members jumped ship in Mexico.


The dictator Ferdinand Marcos set off the national obsession with manning in 1974, when he decreed the establishment of the National Seamen Board. The latter was merged with the Overseas Employment Development Board in 1982 to become the present-day Philippine Overseas Employment Adminstration.


The Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) for seafarers is a relic from the Marcos era. It was originally conducted by the University of the Philippines’ Presidential Center for Strategic Studies in the 1970s and early 1980s under the same name. The purported aim was to make government officials who travel abroad “ambassadors of goodwill”.


Enrollment in Philippine maritime schools has been dwindling despite the country’s continued obsession with manning. From 161,229 in school year 2014-2015, it dropped to 156,087 (SY2015-2016) and further to 119,387 in SY2016-2017 and 82,205 in SY2017-2018.


A great number of maritime students are unable to graduate, and some end up working in Manila as waiters, security guards and janitors. The reason: they cannot board an ocean-going vessel for the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship required for graduation.


Statistics for the deployment of Filipino seafarers are bloated by the inclusion of hotel personnel on passenger ships — e.g., waiters, stewards, entertainers and casino dealers. In 2016, for example, the POEA reported 442,820 sea-based workers deployed. Of this figure, 95,696 worked on board passenger ships, or 21.6% of the total.


Two well-known maritime unions openly use cadets as unpaid labour (office clerks, messengers, cooks, etc.) for indefinite periods of time. Like the manning agencies, they consider it normal practice.


A significant portion of the cash remittances from Filipino seafarers (a total of US$6.14 biillion in 2018) goes to the pockets of unscrupulous manning agents. The standard practice is to shave off one peso or more from the dollar-to-peso exchange rate. This means that seamen’s families get less than they should.


Philippine manning agents who bareboat charter foreign-owned ships have no real control over them, which makes the bareboat charter a sham. They don’t even know where the vessels, which are temporarily registered under the Philippine flag, are located at any given time.


The Filipino Shipowners Association is still alive and kicking despite the fact that the country has no real ocean-going fleet to speak of. Out of the 116 vessels totalling 3.82 million deadweight registered under the national flag in 2017, only one or two totalling 8,073 dwt were beneficially owned by Filipinos. The rest were foreign-owned tonnage under bareboat charter to local companies.

~ Barista Uno


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