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%.

A recovery is in the offing. But how quickly and robustly will depend on certain factors, as WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has emphasised in a video message.

For more on the WTO forecast, click here.

Filipino seafarers are facing the double whammy of COVID-19 and already declining employment trends. Citing preliminary government figures, The Manila Times reported a 25% drop in deployment in 2018 (to 337,502 from 449,463 the previous year). Figures for 2019 are not yet available, but it would be surprising indeed if there was any improvement.

Nobody knows when the global pandemic will end. One thing, though, is sure. The crisis will blow over. Factories will start bustling again, and ships will be needed to transport their products.

Marine Café Blog’s outlook for Filipino seafarers

COVID-19 has severely damaged the image of the cruise industry. It may take two years or even longer for this sector to rebound. Filipinos will find it harder to find work as hotel personnel for passenger vessels. It is important to note that these workers make up as much as 20% of all Filipino seafarers deployed annually.

Shipping companies will be under greater pressure to reduce operating costs during the economic recovery period. Many could turn increasingly to other nationalities for cheaper ratings.

Filipino officers should still be in demand as they have, on the whole, proven their worth and are cheaper than Polish and Indian officers. Global demand for oil has hit rock bottom. In the short term, officers for general cargo and container ships will have better job prospects.

The general economic slowdown could add fuel to the exploitation of seafarers. In Manila, cheating by manning agents in the conversion of seafarers’ dollar remittances will remain a problem and may get worse.

Enrolment in local maritime colleges will most likely dip in the immediate future. However, seafaring is a national obsession. Many Filipinos will continue to look to the profession as a way out of economic hardship or poverty.

All bets of course are off if the COVID-19 pandemic lasts longer than most economists expect. But hope is always a good thing. There should be no shortage of it like the protective gear for medical workers.

~ Barista Uno

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