The Philippines, the world’s dominant source of seafarers this century, is coming under severe pressure with the number of deployed crew dropping drastically last year and a host of top managers warning today that the country’s manning preeminence is under threat.
Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that seafarer deployment dropped by 111,961 last year to 337,502, a huge 25% drop with India, Indonesia and Bangladesh the nations moving to fill the gap.
The Philippines’ competitiveness when it comes to crewing has eroded down to cheaper alternatives coming on the scene, greater red tape and a drop in training and skills standards, which once again has put its accreditation by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) at risk.
Commenting on the statistics, Captain Pradeep Chawla, managing director of training at shipmanagement giant Anglo Eastern Group, told Splash that the world’s crewing needs would always found cheaper solutions and the Philippines was consequently at risk. Seafaring remains a key pillar of the local economy with the billions of dollars sent home by crew from across the world.
Chawla said the declining numbers out of Manila were down to the “constant quest” by shipowners to reduce manning costs.
“There is some concern about the results of the EMSA audits,” Chawla added, saying also: “The reputation of the ambulance chaser lawyers of the Phillipines is also a factor.”
Indonesia has seen a noticeable growth in crew being deployed on international deepsea ships recently, with wages there around a third cheaper than in the Philippines. Thomas Wissman, who heads up US consultants Wissmann & Associates, said Indonesia was rapidly gaining a crewing reputation as the new Philippines.
Nevertheless, Indonesia remains a country with tricky governance, which might stymie crewling levels growth, Carl Schou, the head of Wilhelmsen Ship Management, told Splash.
Kishore Rajvanshy, the veteran head of Hong Kong manager Fleet Management, a company that has up to 5,000 Filipinos on its books, said the crewing data from Manila was likely down to a mix of macro-economic issues and recent government rules and policies affecting the hiring of Filipino seafarers.
The Philippines has maintained a healthy GDP growth rate of over 6% in recent years. The unemployment rate has fallen from levels of 8% in 2010 to 5.1% by the end 2018. This trend shows a growing demand for a larger workforce to meet domestic consumption, Rajvanshy observed.
“Recent policies and various on-the-ground realities involved in the hiring of Filipinos is adding no comfort,” Rajvanshy said.
Wages are still on the rise for Filipino crew while the local currency has declined against the US dollar by 17% over the last four years.
In addition, Filipino manning agencies have to pay additional compulsory government contributions to the local social security and health systems as well as a housing development fund. These payments have shot up recently, increasing the cost disparity with other crewing nations.
Allan Falkenberg, group managing director of crew management at V.Group, hit out at the nation’s spotty training standards.
“Philippine authorities are still struggling to bring their maritime education, training and certification system in line with international standards, despite substantial efforts in recent years. As a result, the European Commission has issued a warning saying that failure to comply with the European Maritime Safety Agency’s standards for the implementation of the STCW Code will lead to the possible ban of Filipino officers from EU-flagged ships,” Falkenberg said.
Falkenberg said this has been compounded by inconsistent administration of POEA regulations by Philippines authorities and increasing competition from other nations such as China, Indonesia, India and Ukraine.
To reverse the trend, Fleet’s Rajvanshy called for serious efforts to be made to address the concerns between the seamen employment regulators in the Philippines, the manning agencies and the end-user – the shipowners.
Photo: Wallem Group