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Philippine Sharpens Focus On Training Seafarers

Image Credit: Maritime Fairtrade

Repost: The Philippines’ Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) wants to convert the National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP) training and research institute in Tacloban City, located in the central Philippines, into a “think tank that will focus on improving the skills of Filipino sailors.

DMW is a newly-established state agency mandated to protect the welfare of Filipino workers overseas. The department will become operational once the Congress of the Philippines approves the first budget.

Interviewed on a weekly television show, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople disclosed that the government wants to convert the NMP into a think tank. “We want to enhance the mandate of NMP,” she said.

Established in 1978, NMP is a government maritime training and research center in the Philippines mandated to provide quality maritime training, assessment, and research services that are responsive to the needs of the country’s maritime industry.

Ople said turning NMP into a think tank is one of the solutions seen to address concerns about the training and certification of Filipino seafarers and the Philippine government’s seeming inability to address the training required by international shipping companies.

For a very long time, Philippine authorities could not provide a solution to the complaints of ship owners that the Commission on Higher Education, Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), and the Department of Labor and Employment have not attuned to real-world needs to the skills currently being certified by the Philippine government.

“We have to harmonize all these things and reconcile all these efforts. Admittedly, there are some gaps that have been there for a very, very long time. We have to show the political will needed to address those gaps,” said Ople, a longtime advocate of migrant workers’ rights.

The official explained that should NMP be converted into a think tank, one of its tasks is to oversee the processing of all the audit reports in the industry and other concerns about the scope of the training and certification of Filipino seafarers.

According to Ople, she learned during her recent meeting with crewing groups that the Philippines produces an estimated 30,000 maritime graduates, but manning agencies can only hire 5,000 graduates. “I also found out that one in five international seafarers are Filipino,” she said.

“We need to remain competitive. We cannot be lackadaisical about this. We are now quite respected around the world because of our seafarers. The problem is there are lots of training schools that don’t have their own training ships, so they just produce graduates but they really don’t have ships where they can train their cadets,” Ople said.

“It’s not an easy problem to solve, and there is a lot of logistics, coordination, capital, and private sector participation. We do need to talk to Marina, and I have not done that yet,” she said, clarifying that the department is still awaiting the approval of their first budget within the next two months.

Deployment of seafarers bouncing back

The Philippines is considered one of the major suppliers of sailors globally as it is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five crew members on board a ship at any time anywhere in the world.

While the deployment of Filipino sailors overseas was greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ople said she has been informed that the number of seafarers being sent abroad is almost back to the deployment numbers before the pandemic and that the demand is increasing.

“The good news is, it came from the joint manning group, maritime sector, even AMOSUP (Association of Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines) which is the biggest seafarers’ union, that we are almost back to pre-pandemic deployment numbers, and the demand is really there,” she said, adding that Europe is now more interested in Filipino seafarers because of the Russia and Ukraine conflict.

“They are interested in the higher positions for Filipino seafarers and there is also a demand for female ship officers,” Ople said. “But we need to get our act together so we can seize all these opportunities,” she added.

In June, Captain Jeffrey Solon, deputy executive director of Marina’s Standard of Trainings, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Office, said in an interview that the demand for Filipino seafarers overseas has increased amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

Solon said roughly 500,000 Filipino seafarers are currently onboard ships.

Seafarers’ union welcomes the planned conversion

Meanwhile, AMOSUP, the largest seafarers’ union in the country, welcomed the planned conversion of the Tacloban institute.

“We welcome the Department of Migrant Worker’s plan. It will be good to have a government body that will focus on research and policies aimed at addressing the issues affecting our seafarers and equipping them to become capable seafarers of the future, especially now that the maritime industry is gearing towards decarbonization, automation, and digitalization,” Dr. Conrado Oca, president of AMOSUP told Maritime Fairtrade.

“We express our full support should the National Maritime Polytechnic transition into a maritime think tank. NMP can also be the central repository of all seafaring macro databases as part of its policy and technical research functions,” he added.

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