An ocean of the seafarers’ saga (2nd of a series)
(C&K attempts to validate the ‘prominence’ of the maritime profession through triangulation technique with merchant mariners, professionals, parents, peers and prospective teens seeking enlightenment. The author, a human resource practitioner do not intend to discredit the gains of the industry, but enjoins training institutes to craft interventions that shall respond to the ocean of the seafarers’ saga as narrated below.)
The seafaring profession, considered as the oldest and worldwide profession is presently attractive in the Philippine setting, at least in Region VIII. Take a joy ride in the country-side and notice the palatial houses built, the owners are mostly seafarers if not “foreign-funded” homes. For convenience, we have categorized four hazards of the profession to include: professional, personal, social and legal hazards:
1. Expensive initial training: Maritime-related courses have to be completed from Maritime Training Institutes, situated in Cebu and Manila, although we have three nautical institutes in the region: the Palompon Institute of Technology, Naval Institute of Technology, and the Eastern Visayas State University. Lucky too for Region VIII, the National Maritime Institute is situated in Cabalawan. The course fees are very high and institutes are facing the challenge of continuous government accreditation and recognition.
2. No career growth: Unlike in any other profession where one can aspire to become the head or the chief of the organization by competence, while in maritime, vertical career growth is impossible. At the most, one may become the Master or Chief Engineer of a Ship and further vertical growth is limited or not possible. C&K recognizes however, the valuable inputs of three merchant mariners/captains-classsmates as respondents.
3. Limited shore jobs: One can not afford to remain in ship for life time, at some point a seafarer has to take up shore job. But unfortunately, not enough shore jobs are available for a seafarer. At the most he may get some marine based shore jobs in coastal area like consulting and professorial positions in institutes.
4. Less manpower and more work: Shipping companies, to attract more people in the shipping, tend to pay more salary. This is only an illusion. To pay more the shipping companies reduce the man power in ships. Ultimately the seafarer is made to work more.
6. Not able to cope up with technological developments: The Navigational equipments and Engine control systems in the ships are mostly electronic. Due to technological advancements, the seafarer has to update his working knowledge of these equipments. If the seafarer is not able to cope up with these developments, he is bound to fail in his profession.
7. Piracy threats and marine terrorism: Piracy attacks and Marine terrorism on the ships are increasing globally. Unlike storm warnings, no one can predict these surprise attacks.
8. Natural calamity: Though hurricanes and rough weather can be predicted, there are increasing instances of ships getting caught that result in groundings, collisions and allisions. Moreover, as the ship is a three axis moving platform, rough seas cause sea sickness affects the productivity of the seafarer.
9. Multi cultural environment: The ships are manned by multi cultural crews who have different lifestyles, religions and languages. The seafarer has to adapt himself to live in multicultural environment. Failure to adapt, results in lesser productivity and the instances of suicides by the seafarers in ships due to their frustration in work are increasing every year.
10. Frequent validations, training needed: To sustain in ships, seafarers has to undergo time bound validation courses in recognized institutes which are time consuming and expensive.
11. Unsafe ships: Ships have definite lifecycle and are not sea worthy beyond that. But shipping companies try their best to extend their life cycle and sail the ships. The ships become unsafe and the seafarer has to face more marine accidents.
12. Disturbed family life. A seafarer can not be with his family members in cases of emergencies. Further he has to forget about birthdays, Christmas, wedding anniversary and any other social and family events. This is compounded when lonely housewives decide to divorce for obvious reasons.
13. Health: Due to work related stress, non availability of fresh food, lack of recreational facilities and inadequate medical facilities in ships, the health of a seafarer deteriorates faster.
14. Loneliness, boredom: As the seafarer is subjected to “Bigger ships and lesser Manpower” concept of shipping companies, the seafarer till he signs off has to face loneliness and boredom. This also reduces the productivity of the seafarer. To overcome loneliness and boredom, a seafarer slowly becomes a chain smoker or an alcoholic.
15. Faster turnarounds, no breaks in harbor: Due to better cargo unloading facilities available in ports, ships turnaround time has drastically reduced. Practically ships crew do not get any breaks in harbors to refresh themselves.
16. Communication problems: Though English is the universal language, as the ships are manned by multicultural crew, communication problems exist between the crew. In addition communication problems exist between ship and shore authorities. At times, this leads to misunderstandings and cause unwanted incidents.
17. Personal safety: A seafarer has to look after himself and if he is not able to get along with ships crew, his life is not safe.
18. Medical facility: Similarly a seafarer is expected to remain fit and remain seaworthy. Medical facilities are inadequate in ships.
19. Anyone can not be a Seafarer: To become a seafarer, a person has to be psychologically fit in addition to medical or physical fitness. To assess the suitability to become a seafarer, psychometric tests are conducted at entry level training of seafarers.
20. Seen as a high income man but spends more than he earns: A seafarer is visualised by many in the society as high earning member whereas most of the seafarers spend more than they earn.
21. Not able to mix up in society: A seafarer due to isolation from his family members, gets slowly isolated from the society also and has no recognition in the society. Many seafarers are not able to mix up in a heterogeneous society as they interact with limited people throughout their career. They mix up successfully with other seafarers only.
22. Pollution: If a ship pollutes the sea due to whatsoever reasons, ships crew including the captain of the ship have to face legal actions.
23. Marine accidents: If a ship gets involved in collision, allision, grounding, fire etc., the ships crew including the captain of the ship are liable to face legal actions.
In the light of the foregoing, technically seafarers are equipped with hard skills. Vital to his navigational struggle are soft skills too and include the value for continuous learning, harmonious co-existence, and the will to be happy especially when the career ceiling has been achieved. Your dilemma now: “All hands on deck! Drop anchor? Let go for’d? Or sail?
By: Dr. Nila F. Filamor
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