Elephant in the Room: THE PHILIPPINE MARITIME INDUSTRY
A meeting of eagles, The Challenge Ahead webinar on Philippine maritime plans and policies.
Three national organizations and seven international experts accepted as Panelists to react on the views of The Maritime Authority Industry (MARINA), the Sole Flag State Administration of the country.
This was held November 20, 2020 by zoom webinar application, broadcast simultaneously in various time zones of the world as part of the 15th Anniversary celebrations of Marino World.
It was a free-flowing dialogue on what ails, what promises and what could be solutions for the Philippine maritime industry, factoring the COVID-19 pandemic.
As host, Publisher Lyn Bacani set the tone by reminding the audience expect the meat, not the broth. Power points were not allowed; “presentations” discouraged to connect to Millennials of limited attention span.
The Panelists are established experts known to inform rather than impress. They favor analytical prose than subliminal praises.
MARINA Administrator Robert Empedrad gamely accepted as the focal person of the dialogue. The retired Vice Admiral comes with impeccable credentials: full trust of a very popular President and a reputation for integrity.
He laid the grid in a brisk enumeration:
- Over seven Crew Change Hubs are now operational nationwide from the single facility only in Manila before
- Extended validity of SIRBs, SRBs and STCW certifications
- Blended learning implemented, a combination of online learning and face-to-face for practical exercises
- Engaged foreign governments (like the European Union, Australia, Japan and Singapore) for a practical but controlled crew change
- Inter-regional cooperation on pandemic protocols so important to seafarers; with reasonable restrictions on crew changes so long as seafarers are “safe and hired.”
Ms. Cristina Garcia, President, Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA Maritime Group).
The Philippines is not doing enough to address deployment. Underlying problems are travel restrictions imposed by local government units (LGUs).
Blended training is not enough.
Time and releases of documents and certificates are delayed making hard to deploy seafarers. Having facility is not enough, improve on other aspects. Until when is the extension of the validity?
Capt. Belal Ahmed, Chairman of the Intl Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC).
No one really knows what to do at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we are learning slowly.
There are now various standards, different rules and regulations. We need a Unified Standard, crafted with others and allied sectors of the maritime industry.
Mr. Joost Mes, President of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in the Phil (DCCP).
Congratulates The MARINA for proactive move in Crew Change. Unacceptable two months earlier, backlog was addressed by October. He also noted other nationalities are now being chosen over Filipinos.
Lessen travel restrictions; raise the quota on what airlines may carry so that even foreigners may change crew in the Philippines. We can then fare better in the region.
Mr. Roy Alampay, Chairman of the Joint Manning Group (JMG).
Impressed by The MARINA on opening systems and facility for JMG to rotate their seafarers considering the last two months are major movements in replacing the crew.
Asian seafarers associations should lobby on Asian governments to open up ports for easier crew changes. USA and the European Union are lesser strict than Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
There should be more One-Stop-Shops for crew replacement. Stakeholders (like manning agencies) should be consulted for best management practices.
Administrator Empedrad recalled Australia claims 17 COVID-19 positive Filipino were hidden in a ship calling at its port. The Philippines investigated and found loopholes. While speeding up things, restrictions should be observed so as not to allow mingling which may infect the “seafarers lane.”
He reiterated the push for blended learning.
Endure the restrictions of LGUs until the pandemic subsides.
Dr. Condrad Oca, Pres., Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Phil (AMOSUP).
There will be more problems without our Government help, more so that foreign governments are strict on Filipino seafarers. Our Government should appeal, more so on difficulties encountered by our licensed manning agencies (LMAs).
Shipowners are worried when there are no Filipino seafarers board their vessels; we should be wary other nationalities are replacing Filipinos.
He scanned over AMOSUP accomplishments, the latest being a 90-square meter Molecular Laboratory (with ITF and IMEC) for 3,000 tests so essential in the watch against the COVID -19. Being a medical doctor, Oca is first to realize the import of vaccination.
Mr. Irfan Rahim, Head IMO Special Projects, Maritime Safety Division.
He reviewed what the Intl Maritime Organization (IMO) has done to mitigate the havoc of the pandemic, such as Seafarers Action Team (SCAT) and Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS). That “name and shame” is never in the systems of IMO.
Defining what a “key worker” is essential for seafarers to be formally included.
It’s a mammoth job but can be done with collective efforts, as Asian nations are major suppliers of seafarers. The approach should be corrective but pragmatic.
Thousands at sea need repatriation, so stressed away from the family with jobs lost.
Mr. Stephen Cotton, Secretary General of the Intl Transport Workers Federation (ITF).
It is a challenge to the industry to find long-term solutions, with a cooperative outlook than fragmented ways. Frustrations may set in with too much interventions as the bureaucracy (of nations) and prejudices (at some ports).
We should move faster, accept the increased costs for seafarers like that of better facility, isolation programs and vaccination.
Mr. Carl Faannessen, President of the Phil-Norway Business Council (PNBC).
Confirms Phil-Norway relations is “incredibly robust”.
It takes time to build alignment and agreement across multiple stakeholders.
Extending validity of documents and certificates is a right move for The MARINA.
COVID -19 is an accelerant rather than a stumbling block --- things that should be moved are getting momentum, like this webinar which should be face-to-face. A lot of good ideas may come if we focus on logistics and seafarers today and beyond.
Create the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), possibly next year as it has strong political support. Like pinakbet (traditional sautéed vegetable mix) we do not stir but gently assemble for a perfect mix of seafarers, stakeholders and government.
The MARINA should avoid extreme requirements at short notice for logistics to flow unhampered.
Capt. Kuba Szymanski, Secretary General of Intermanager.
Called for proactive action, putting into perspective the huge number of seafarers affected. The 19,000 processed is not good enough. Filipinos must help themselves; if not enough will go out, not enough will come home.
Romanians are replacing Filipinos being not available. This is not blackmail but a rally to check on realities.
Mr. Roger Harris, Executive Director, Intl Seafarers Welfare & Assistance Network (ISWAN).
His agency promotes the well-being of seafarers worldwide. It used to address piracy at the Gulf of Guinea and adjacent blue waters by supporting the families of victimized seafarers.
Some 14 to 16 aboard have physical and psychological problems, frustrated by the stress on family finances, reflected on the increase in suicides.
ISWAN asks ITF for what is due, then augments what is overdue.
Administrator Empedrad announces about 30,000 Filipino seafarers are aboard with extended contracts but should be home soon.
He is grateful to AMOSUP’s Molecular Laboratory for RTPCR so needed.
The MARINA will study the extension of documents and certifications beyond 2020.
Its digital system (MISMO) now allows online payment, among others. Australia had offered to help speed up procedures.
In a bit of witticism, the Admiral invites all to help cook a better pinakbet, spicy and delicious, in collaboration with stakeholders.
Rahim renewed calls to educate, train seafarers, be declared “key workers.” They should be fast-tracked at airports similar to air crews. He notes some States do not have capability nor facility to handle the influx. He worries that due to climate change some “frozen region” may melt and sea level rises with new virus to contend with.
Ahmed compliments The MARINA, believes on positive things over problems. Seafarers are easy to identify and readily blame as in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. In any fora, the Philippines is always central to discussions due to her seafarers in the logistical chain. Shipping is the only industry on the move and Filipinos are easily 40% of the 300,000 seafarers onboard. Philippine policies could be a global model but for the problem LMAs do not have funds to underwrite the cost issue of reforms. Yet, any fault of LMAs is global news (like that in Australia). The Government should discern which advices are best for her people and the industry.
Szymanski thinks Empedrad gives good answers and wishes to clone the efficient MARINA staff. He takes a dig against Australia for zeroing on Filipinos but not on Romanians. He offered a working formula of Think, Create, Execute.
Mes notes governments are unwilling to lift visa restrictions which prevent seamless crew change for both Filipinos and foreigners.
Alampay shares ILO had already recommended usage of the Seafarer Identification Document (SID) as compliant for the Schengen Visa (similar to UK’s acceptance for those carrying Panama and Liberia visa).
Faannessen believes visas are stumbling blocks like Indonesian seafarers cannot be deployed in the US due to the closure of its embassy in Indonesia. The situation reflects the fragmented state of the maritime industry.
Oca looks forward to an open dialogue with everyone with open minds, humorously will wait for the pinakbet recipe from Faannessen.
Empedrad believes visa restriction is a major concern; SID may solve this.
Crew change demands increased costs, as The MARINA investigates financial predators hanging around.
Government readies lot-and-house and scholarship packages for victims; even a 300 to 500-room condominium for the modern-day heroes.
In barely two hours, The Marina link registered 2000 hits; plus reactions and interest recorded from other group links. Figures cannot be collated, as yet. LinkedIns, vibers and likes are independent, with proprietary rights or expectations.
What is clear is that the maritime audience demands straight talk, tired of self-praise behind power points of marketing, glossy pronouncements of politicians and bureaucrats.
Empedrad appears pleased, messaging “very well done Lyn” with Clap-Clap-Clap emojies.
Bacani feels relieved her hosting was acceptable: control of the flow, all Panelists able to express views. She did not editorialize on the dialogue between Empedrad and the experts, in respect of Panelists’ ability to connect and audience capacity to discern.
Ms. Garcia of ALMA thanked Empedrad “for sharing your initiatives and plans for the maritime industry, reiterating their support. She also commended Ms. Bacani, “Hats off to you for gathering the major maritime stakeholders in 1 forum.”
Capt. Jeffrey Solon reflected Ms. Garcia’s assessment, adding " the world needs ships and ships needs FILIPINO seafarers "
IMO’s Rahim sent congratulations for “a great job.”
Capt. Antonio Palenzuela, a Director of the Society of Filipino Captains (FILSCAPTS) says Bacani, “made a very impressive world-class webinar gathering the cream of the crop in the maritime industry”. That the outcome is positive. Everybody are into collaboration or cooperation.”
Nelson Prias, PHD Chair, AIMS, is requesting a copy of the presentations for his reference in teaching. So does John Dale Regio, Recruitment Manager, Island Overseas Transport.
C/E Mike Marasigan of the Fil Assn of Marine Engineers (FAME) says he “learned a lot from your distinguished panelists” and “Am humbled to be invited.”
Capt. Oscar Orbeta, Chairman, Top Ever Marine Management Phil notes the “excellent handling of Webinar.” Capt. Albert Aide, VP Training and Development, CF Sharp Crew Management, says, “It was really great having organized such an event!”
Capt. Abelardo Pacheco, Management Level Course Director at MAAP, caught just the tail-end of the webinar due to Internet connectivity. The full text of his questions will be forwarded to The MARINA for a direct response on:
- Government intervention for the frontliners (seafarers) as center of gravity in the impact of the pandemic to the maritime industry
- Covid-19 is a biological disaster and lacks institutionalized framework from IMO, ILO, WHO, Administrations; with critical shortcomings on Visa and Quarantine protocols, among others.
- There should be collective protocol, a global synergy, including security and safety from perils of the sea.
Gabriel Jimenez of MPCF was not able to join and complains on Internet connectivity in the Bicol area. Not surprising, really.
What is, is that usual bashers and trolls are mum --- but too early to tell, actually.
That The Challenge Ahead webinar beams Friday, 17:00 PHST, SGT Singapore is quite logical, 5pm Manila local time.
What seems ambitious is the reach: 09:00 GMT London, 04:00 EST Miami, 13:00 GST UAE, 17:00 CST China, 18:00 JST Tokyo and 11:00 EET Greece.
Not surprising is the high response from Metro Manila and the Visayas since they are cores of our maritime strength. But global interest on Philippine maritime is awe inspiring, seen from a sampling of registered participants:
Gerry Buchanan, Managing Director, LISCR (Hong Kong); Capt. Naoki Saito, General Manager, ClassNK (Japan); Nish Wijayakuthilaka, DPA, Shipping (Sri Lanka); Dr. Mohammed Ismail Russtam Suhrab, Senior Lecturer, University Malaysia Terengganu; Giullaume Drillet, Regional Manager, SGS/Global NetTest (Singapore); Anil Rao, General Manager, MSC Shipmanagement (Thailand); Kyaw Zeya, Pro-Rector (Administration), Myanmar Maritime University.
Cristiano Vattuone, Manager, Shipmanagement, Vroon Offshhore Services (Italy); Georgios Pitaulis, Crewing Manager, ABC Maritime (Switzerland); Johan Roos, Director, Regulatory Affairs, Interferry ((Sweden); Adam Lewis, Head of training and operations, IMEC (United Kingdom); Nikos Aslanis, Maritime training Executive, KCL Group (Greece); Capt. Peter Grunau, Maritime Training Consultant, Marlow Navigation, (Deutschland); Naim Nazha, Executive Director. Navigation Safety & Environmental Protection, Transport Canada.
Khamis Buamin, Chairman, KBI-uae/DCMMIemirates, (Dubai); Majid R. Pirkeh, Owner, Pars Nauran Kish (Iraq); Hocine Gouasmia, Consultant, BET (Algeria); Mohammud Hanif Dewan, Director of Education, Liberia Maritime Training Institute; Capt. HK Varma, Chief General Manager, Petronet LNG (India).
These boost sovereign pride and open opportunities for economic gains. But these demand rational and selfless approaches with sustained political will and reduced partisanship.
Ours is a shameful journal of disunity and self-interests: the deadly intramurals of Katipuneros convened to end Spanish colonization; Ilustrados pawning on the double talk of American Imperialists; Statesmen collaborating despite indignities by the Japanese conquerors, to post- war graft and corruption by Oligarchs and Politicians of reparation funds and relief goods.
Maritime leadership is our second wind towards a tiger economy. We must put our acts together. We must rise heroic to this communal challenge.
Shall we procrastinate or rush with sleeves rolled for the long haul?