The possible shortage of seafarers in 2026 would be an opportune situation for the Philippines, according to the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the government body that oversees the Philippines’ seafaring sector.
In an interview with the Maritime Fairtrade, MARINA Administrator Vice Admiral Robert A Empedrad said in a mix of English and Tagalog, “This is advantageous to our country. We have around 800,000 seafarers and only 400,000 are deployed.”
The Seafarer Workforce Report 2021, prepared by BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping and released last July, warns of a shortfall of officers by 2026. It also notes that the demand for seafarers globally has outpaced the supply in 2021 despite the consistent increase in the supply of officers. According to the report, this could be attributed to a “reported increase in officers needed on board vessels.”
Citing a “surplus” of Filipino seafarers, Empedrad affirmed that the Philippines in fact “(has) available seafarers who can be deployed if other countries don’t have a supply.” But to make sure that all Filipino seafarers are qualified to serve on board, Empedrad emphasized that they must take their regular refresher trainings as required by the Administration.
Filipino seafarers deployed overseas remain a vital part of the Philippine economy. In 2020, money they sent home amounted to US$29,903,256. This is only slightly lower than their pre-pandemic remittances which were at US$30,133,300 in 2019.
Competent seafarers ensured despite blended learning arrangement
The Philippines has been implementing blended learning arrangements (a mixture of online and onsite lessons) in schools and higher education institutions since the pandemic started in 2020. Physical classes are allowed in maritime training centers but appropriate safety and health protocols must be strictly followed.
Higher education institutions, however, are still on blended learning arrangement. Students taking undergraduate courses in Marine Transportation, Marine Engineering, and other seafaring-related bachelor’s degree programs are also compelled to attend their lectures online, without hands-on training at the facilities and without having a feel for equipment that these future officers will operate on board vessels.
Melvyn Ramirez, chief engineer and Assistant Training Director at the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP), gave the Maritime Fairtrade a glimpse of the situation inside the school.
“We are implementing blended learning in our trainings. But for now, we cater solely to our cadets inside the campus to protect them from (COVID-19) infection,” Ramirez said.
The MAAP campus is located at the Municipality of Mariveles in Bataan province. In early August, Mariveles was considered as Bataan’s COVID-19 epicenter with a reported tally of 1,149 in active cases last month.
According to Ramirez, the MAAP has a duty scheme in place for its employees including its instructors. “(The instructors) stay in the campus for one month (and will) work from home for 15 (days after their one-month on-site duty),” Ramirez explained.
Instructors who are coming from outside Bataan are also required to be in quarantine for 14 days before they can work on campus. Upon completion of the quarantine period and when no COVID-19 symptoms are observed, they will take charge of the practicum of the trainees—but they will be in complete personal protective equipment (PPE) suits.
Resumption of ‘face-to-face’ classes for aspiring seafarers pushed
Amid this blended learning, Empedrad remains confident in the overall competence of Filipino seafarers. “Based on the results of the assessment and the theoretical exam, they are performing well,” Empedrad confirmed.
But he also noted that this set-up, if prolonged, could affect undergraduate students of Marine Transportation and Marine Engineering.
As a measure, the MARINA has requested the resumption of the conduct of face-to-face classes for maritime undergraduate degree programs. In fact, the proposal has been approved by the Technical Panel for Maritime Education and will be escalated to the Inter-Agency Task Force for approval.
As of writing, the Commission on Higher Education has allowed the conduct of limited face-to-face classes in medical and allied health courses in 118 higher education institutions. Engineering, I.T., and maritime degree programs are also being highly considered as these mostly require practical activities.
With optimism that these aspiring seafarers can set foot in their colleges and universities next year, Empedrad, the former Flag Officer-in-Command of the Philippine Navy shared to the Maritime Fairtrade, “We (Filipino seafarers) are still the choice of principal countries.”