Many folks in maritime Manila continue to justify the use of cadets as unpaid office workers and even as domestic servants. It instills discipline, according to one argument. What a silly statement to make.
The egregious practice actually helps propagate a servile mindset among future ship officers. The cadets are trained to obey orders like members of a police K9 unit. Telling a cadet in uniform to go out and buy pizza for the office staff and training a dog to fetch — what’s the difference?
I once attended a one-day introductory course on ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). During a break, I asked the lecturer, a retired ship captain and the then chairman of the Board of Examiners for deck officers, a question that was unrelated to the subject.
“How many out of every 10 Filipino officers would blindly follow the orders of a senior foreign officer?”
“Eight,“ he replied.
His matter-of-fact answer did not shock me.
Telling a cadet in uniform to go out and buy pizza for the office staff and training a dog to fetch — what’s the difference?
I recalled the 2014 Bow Mariner disaster. The chemical tanker caught fire, exploded and sank off the eastern coast of the US state of Virginia, killing 21 of the 27 crew members and causing severe pollution.
The United States Coast Guard investigation report (click here to download it) would later shed light on the shipboard culture on the ill-fated vessel. Orders from the Greek officers, it quoted one of the Filipino survivors as saying, were like “words from God”.
Of course, the manning agents in Manila who exploit cadets in the guise of “training” will be the last to acknowledge the insidious effects of the practice. They love the sense of control. That is what it all boils down to.