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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.

Even in the absence of new studies on their salary scales, it is a generally accepted fact that Filipino seafarers don’t come cheap. As I pointed out in a previous post, “Filipino ship officers are becoming more expensive. The local manning agent of a large Asian boxship operator tells Marine Café Blog that the monthly pay for a Filipino master is currently averaging US$11,00-13,000. Chief engineers are paid a little less: US$9,000-11,000.” The upward trend in shipboard salaries may persist given the tight global supply of ship officers and sustained demand from the unions for crew wages commensurate with the work performed.

The upward trend in shipboard salaries may persist given the tight global supply of ship officers and sustained demand from the unions for crew wages commensurate with the work performed.

The other threat is just as concerning. True, Filipino seafarers can no longer freely file tort claims as they did in the mid-1990s. That period saw a spate of ship arrests in the Panama Canal in connection with Filipino tort claims — until the P&I clubs put pressure on Panama to stop entertaining such cases. Even so, some shipowners are not happy with how the National Labor Relations in Manila has been deciding cases in favour of seafarers. Whether justified or not, their discontent has fuelled calls for moneys awarded to seafarers to be held in escrow until a final decision from the Philippines’ Supreme Court.

Hopefully, Filipino seafarers and the local crewing community can withstand whatever problems lie ahead. One important factor on their side is that the country has a well-developed infrastructure for maritime education and training. Just as iimportant, Filipinos remain fixated with mannng other nations’ fleets. As I wrote in my e-book, Close Encounters in Maritime Manila: “GOING TO SEA as a merchant sailor has become a paradigm for many young Filipinos. A lad from a small town or village who becomes a ship captain is regarded as the beau idéal of the successful life and a prize catch for
marriageable girls.”
It still is.

~ Barista Uno

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