Asia’s strategic position in international trade has been brought to the fore by the disruptions arising from the coronavirus pandemic. Despite a marginal decline of 0.4 percent in 2020, reports indicate that Asia is still the global hub for container traffic, with nearly two-thirds of total volume being handled at Asian container ports.
Latest reports also showed that Asia’s liner shipping connectivity topped other regions. The top five most connected economies in the second quarter of 2021 are all in Asia: China, Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region, China), Malaysia, Republic of Korea and Singapore.
And who are the leading providers of deck officers and ratings in the global maritime trade? According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) the Philippines is at number one, followed by Indonesia, China and India.
The UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2021 published last November reported that the Philippines topped as provider for both seafarers and officers. Indonesia took third place for ratings and fifth for officers. China was third for officers and fourth for ratings, and India was fourth for officers and fifth for ratings. The Russian Federation was the other country in the top five list.
Out of those deployed, around 25 percent are officers, 38 percent are ratings or skilled seafarers who carry out support work for officers, and 37 percent are non-marine such as those performing hotel activities on passengers or cruise ships like chambermaids, cooks, waiters, casino personnel and entertainers.
The Philippines’ leadership position in global maritime manpower has earned for it a place in the Council of the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO). The Council is IMO’s executive organ that is responsible for implementing its policies and work programs. The IMO was established in 1948 to facilitate cooperation among governments in crafting appropriate regulations and fostering best practices relating to shipping engaged in international trade, and to “adopt the highest practicable standards in matters concerning maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution.”
The Maritime Industry Administration (MARINA) is the administrative body responsible for oversight in the implementation of the standards of training, certification and watch keeping for seafarers (STCW), the international convention upon which maritime manpower training is anchored.
Critically important is training and education. As of end-2020, there were 95 accredited maritime training institutions in the country. Additionally, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) supervises less than 100 maritime education institutions offering bachelor’s degree courses in marine transportation and marine engineering.
These institutions must meet the stringent criteria set by the IMO. Noncompliance would imperil the seal of good housekeeping conferred by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee that regularly publishes a ‘white list’ of compliant countries. Norway, one of the countries that deploy a large number of Filipino officers and ratings has established the Norwegian Training Center that sets benchmarks for world-class training.
It is essential that high standards of training and competence be assured in order that the country will maintain its stature as the most preferred provider of world-class maritime manpower.