Over the last 50 years, the Philippines has grown to become a leading provider of maritime professionals and is subsequently considered by many to be the seafaring capital of the world. The seafarer population in traditional maritime countries declined in the 1970s, shifting supply to countries like India, China and the Philippines. At present there are over 10.5m Filipinos living and working abroad, and in 2013 they sent total remittances of around $23bn back home to the Philippines. The maritime industry is a major contributor to this: nearly 400,000 Filipino seafarers were working overseas in 2013, contributing a total of more than $5.2bn in remittances.

Globally, there are around 80,000 vessels of over 500 deadweight tonnes (DWT). Approximately 1.4m workers are required at any given time on those 80,000 ships, and Filipinos occupy a large proportion of those positions. With shipping carrying over 90% of world trade, it can be said that Filipinos play an extremely significant role in this industry. Maximo Mejia, administrator for the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), told OBG, “Seafaring is the Philippines’ biggest strength, currently supplying roughly 30% of the world’s seafarers, which is miles away from the second-largest source country.”

Filipino workers have proven themselves to be competent and can be found working at shipping companies around the world.

STANDARDS: Broadly speaking, practices covering the mobility, education and training of seafarers in the international shipping industry are well developed. Safety standards are governed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which is based in London, with member states having to be included on a “white list” as evidence of their compliance with the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention.

Under the previous system, in the Philippines the governance structure was vested in the Maritime Training Council (MTC) with the Department of Labour and Employment serving as the chair and MARINA as secretariat. Sitting on the MTC were the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Professional Regulation Committee (PRC), the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration and the Philippine Coast Guard.

In 2006 the European Maritime Safety Agency audited the Philippines and again in 2010, 2011 and 2012, finding a lack of compliance with the STCW Convention by many maritime schools and training centres. One reason it attributed to this was the lack of accountability resulting from having multiple government agencies under a coordinating body. It also found a lack of coherent policies, infrastructure, political will and accountability to audit and close non-compliant schools and training centres.

To help address this issue, in 2012 President Benigno Aquino III’s administration issued Executive Order No. 75, designating the Department of Transportation and Communications, through MARINA, as the single central maritime administration responsible for the oversight of compliance with the 1978 STCW Convention. However, the order did not override the mandates of CHED, TESDA and the PRC.

REPRESENATION: On May 2013 the industry elected representatives to Congress through the maritime party of the Philippines, known as Angkla, under a law that stipulates 20% of all congressional seats can be assigned to sector representatives. Angkla representative Jesulito Manalo was sworn into office in July 2013 and within seven months the first bill to come out of the 16th Congress was Republic Act (RA) 10635, which established MARINA as the single administration responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the STCW Convention as amended, and any international agreements or covenants related thereto. The law also transferred all STCW functions performed by the PRC to MARINA.

NUMBERS GAME: Within the 10m-strong Filipino diaspora, about 1.1m are active seafarers who hold a seamen’s book, or certificate, issued by MARINA. Of this number nearly 400,000 are on board at any one time, returning home after a maximum of 10 months onboard for a two-month holiday. This means there are almost 400,000 full-time equivalent positions year-round, which accounts for over $5bn in remittances, and in 2014 this figure rose to $5.6bn. According to World Bank figures from 2013, per capita income levels in the Philippines are less than $3000 per annum, while the income for maritime industry professionals is over $13,000.

HR IMBALANCE: The industry also faces a human resource imbalance as it takes less than a year to build a new ship versus 14 or 15 for a first-year college student in a maritime programme to become a master or chief engineer. This results in a shortage of qualified staff and creates wage inflation.

FOCUS ON CURRICULUM: CHED has the authority over maritime educational institutions under MARINA. Since it was named the country’s single maritime administration, MARINA has established a list of compliant maritime schools, as well as improved the curriculum to be outcome based. The maritime school structure requires a student to study for three years, with one year of on board training as a cadet before being able to graduate.

Communication between maritime and education authorities is necessary to ensure schools are providing the appropriate technical training. This will enable institutions offering maritime programmes to gear their curricula towards the future of the maritime industry, focusing on developing much-needed skill sets in the areas of machining, electronics and engineering.

MARINA has also developed a ratings scheme called Enhanced Support Level Programmes, which is designed to take into consideration value added for the training of active Filipino seafarers, as well as compliance with STCW requirements for certification. The programme aims to enhance the competitiveness of Filipino seafarers in the global maritime industry as they perform support-level function and responsibilities on deck and in engine rooms.

Given the shortage of seafarers, and especially officers, around the globe, there is an opportunity for Filipinos to continue to be the seafarer of choice, returning home to jobs as professionals in emerging ship management and ancillary services for the international shipping industry. With high-quality maritime schools, the opportunity extends to becoming an international centre for maritime education.