By Raymund Antonio
The maritime industry has raised alarm over the decreasing number of Filipino seafarers deployed in international shipping vessels after the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) reported that the deployment of sea-based Filipino workers decreased by almost 65,000 last year compared to 2016.
The same data showed there were only 378,072 Filipino seafarers deployed in 2017 compared to 442,820 deployments in 2016 or a difference of 64,748.
The steep decline in the deployment was regarded by United Filipino Seafarers President Nelson Ramirez as not mere “abstractions,” but a “flesh-and-blood reality.”
“You look at these figures and think of what it really means—that there are 64,748 seafarers who used to have jobs but not anymore. That’s tens of thousands of families whose livelihoods are at risk,” he said.
UFS is a globally-recognized union of maritime professionals with 57,000 members.
Ramirez, a seasoned seafarer, expressed fear that the deployment drop may continue in the coming years due to the slowdown in global shipping.
“We can expect to see thousands more seafarers loitering in Kalaw, as we lose more principals and shipowners,” he said.
Apart from international economic turmoil and swelling of unemployed maritime graduates each year, the maritime industry leaders attributed the decline to the proliferation of the so-called ambulance chasers.
Ambulance chasing is a practice wherein seafarers seek compensation based on fictitious claims of injury, which they claimed has disappointed and disheartened foreign shipowners.
The compensation claims in the Philippines are determined by arbitrators at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), both of which are under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
The settlement usually amounts to millions of pesos. This is why foreign employers hire seafarers from China, Indonesia, India, Myanmar, Russia, Ukraine, and Vietnam, among others instead of Filipino sea-based workers.
CF Sharp Crew Management president and CEO Miguel Rocha said his agency lost about 1,000 job vacancies abroad due to ambulance chasing scheme.
“Filipino maritime professionals are competitive and attractive since they are dependable, with good communication skills and English language proficiency and hardworking. Due to this, seafarers became a significant workforce of the Philippines total labor force, bringing in $6 billion remittances into our government coffers. Sadly, things are totally different now,” Rocha said.
Captain Rey Casareo of Cargo Safeway Inc., another manning agency, projected that Filipino manning agencies were bound to lose $49 million in revenues by 2019 if these ambulance chasers remain unabated.
Ramirez then called on both chambers of Congress to act on the matter to prevent more job losses.
“We cannot afford to give way to the emerging markets of our counterparts what we have sown in the worldwide maritime business. Congress and Senate should formulate an enduring response to this problem—a bill that would defend our partners so our lifeblood will be preserved and protected,” he said.