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The force of habit and the culture of maritime safety

Tighter regulations and increased training requirements will not lead to a culture of safety. The MV Rena (2011), Costa Concordia (2012) and SS El Faro (2015) incidents offer the best proof. Sadly, the list of 21st-century maritime disasters is far from finished.

On the other hand, who can deny the fact that shipboard safety is a matter of habit? All living creatures are “bundles of habit”, wrote Ameican psychologiest and philosopher William James in his 68-page treatise simply entitled ‘Habit’.

Ah, the things they make Filipino maritime cadets do!

The maritime landscape in Manila would not be complete without the cadets who work as unpaid labour for the manning agencies and some seafarer unions. Individually and collectively, these cadets are commonly called ‘utility’. The term is descriptive of the many ways these aspiring ship officers are utilised. However, I would rather use the phrase ‘cadet flunkey’ — flunkey, meaning a person who does menial or trivial work for another, especially with unquestioning obedience. It is less demeaning and more accurate.

The following are some of the tasks cadet flunkeys are made to perform in exchange for being deployed eventually as apprentice–officers. I have seen worse, but these would–be ship officers never complain. Understanbly so, since the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship is a requisite for graduation in Philippine maritime schools.

Some hard maritime questions in search of answers

“All non­sense questions are unanswerable,” wrote the British writer and lay theologian C.S. Lewis in his book A Grief Observed, which was first published in 1961. The following questions are not nonsense. In fact, they are valid and important questions. It seems, though, that they are seldom, if ever, raised by maritime folks. I myself continue to ask these questions, but I’m not sure if I have found the answers to all of them.

Filipino seafarers faced with two long-term threats

Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a big blow to Filipino seafarers and the manning agents in Manila. Total deployment plunged by 54% in 2020 as the scourge of the virus disrupted supply chains and the normal process of crew change. But two trends could pose an even greater threat to Philippine manning over the long haul. Both have been slowly eating away at the country’s’ coveted standing in the global seafarer market. Yet, they do not seem to be receiving enough attention.

Filipino seafarer deployment posts historic plunge

The overseas deployment of Filipino seafarers plummeted by 54% from 469,996 in 2019 to 217,223 in 2020, according to official government figures. This is the biggest drop ever for a single year. Hardest hit were hotel personnel for passenger ships (classified as ‘non-maritime’ but officially considered as seafarers). Their numbers declined by 64%. Deployment of ratings was down 44% with officers doing much better (only 0.48% lower). Is the bell tolling for Philippine manning?

Why I finally gave up on Manila’s manning community

I used to cover Manila’s crewing sector as a long-longtime correspondent for British maritime publications. Since kissing ass was not in my vocabulary, I had a reputation for being a maverick who thought little of throwing brickbats at the bigwigs. But who cares about popularity? As a journalist, I did what I had to do and I did the best that I could. Over the years, I learned four important lessons about the local manning business and its underlying culture. They would eventually drive me to give up on this sector, to wit:

7 best things that could happen to seafarers (hopefully)

Seafarers are not asking for much. They certainly don’t expect to be treated like prima donnas. They just want a seaworthy vessel, good pay, decent food and accommodations at sea, and humane employers. Unfortunately, these needs are not always met. Seafarers from developing countries often get the short end of the stick — victims, not only of those who abuse them, but of a system that has virtually reduced them to mere commodities. Call it wishful thinking, but the following changes would help reverse the situation.

Shortfalls in STCW Code call for a paradigm shift

In this guest article, maritime training expert Captain Richard Teo takes a hard look at the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and the accompanying Code. He identifies some shortfalls and bats for a paradigm shift that would place greater emphasis on competence-based training and assessment. Captain Teo is a fellow at the Royal Institution Singapore/Manila; visiting lecturer at the Australian Maritime College (University of Tasmania); and Board member at GlobalMET.

Seafarers and STCW: The curse of revalidation

All seafarers live under a curse. It is called revalidation. “Why the hell do I need to have my certificate revalidated?” Every seafarer must have asked the question at one time or another. It’s a fair question to ask. Neither knowledge nor experience has an expiry date. And yet, in many cases seafarers must show evidence every five years that they have maintained the standards of competence under the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

Outlook for Filipino seafarers amid COVID-19

It’s the worst of times for both ships and seafarers.

The World Trade Organization in Geneva has forecast world merchandise trade to plummet by 13% in 2020. If the coronavirus pandemic is not brought under control and governments fail to coodinate their policy responses, the drop could be as much as 32%.

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