Industry alarmed over decline in seafarers deployment
THE decline in the deployment of Filipino seafarers on board international vessels has alarmed the maritime industry as it seeks congressional support to address the problem.
Citing statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration POEA), the 57,000-strong United Filipino Seafarers (UFS), a union of maritime professionals, said a total of 64,748 Filipino seamen lost their jobs last year.
POEA records showed that total of 378,072 Filipino sea-based workers were deployed last year compared with 442,820 in 2016. The sizeable drop in deployment was the first since 2010.
Aside from international economic turmoil and the swelling of maritime graduates every year, industry leaders blamed the problem on the proliferation of “ambulance chasers,” which they claimed has disappointed and disheartened foreign ship owners.
CF Sharp Crew Management president and Chief Executive Officer Miguel Rocha said they lost roughly 1,000 crew from the ambulance chasing controversy.
Ambulance peddling is a practice where seafarers pretend to be sick, and with the help of a lawyer, will file a case against the manning agency and ask for a total disability claims, among other means. The settlement usually amounts to millions of pesos.
The seafarer’s lawyer, in connivance with corrupt arbiters at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), will make sure the ambulance chaser wins the case.
The NLRC and NCMB are adjunct agencies of the Department of Labor and Employment.
“Filipino maritime professionals are competitive and attractive since they are dependable, hardworking, with good communication skills and are proficient in English. Thus, seafarers has become a significant workforce of the Philippines’ total labor force, bringing in $6 billion in remittances to government coffers, but sadly, things are totally different now,” Rocha said.
Principals losing faith
But he said their principals were getting sick and tired of the underhanded practice, prompting some of them to leave the country and hire seafarers from China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Russia, Ukraine and India, among other emerging seafaring counterparts.
Maritime captain Rey Casareo of Cargo Safeway Inc., a manning agency, projected that Filipino manning agencies were bound to lose $49 million in revenues by 2019 if ambulance chasers continue with their schemes.
The UFS, globally recognized union of maritime professionals with 57,000 members, is also alarmed by the steep decline of Filipino seamen on board international ships.
UFS president Nelson Ramirez feared that the deployment drop would continue to worsen unless government stepped in to address the problem.
“Imagine 64,748 seafarers lost their jobs? And, God forbids, we expect more of this drop in the near future. It’s alarming. We can expect thousands of seafarers loitering in Kalaw Street if we will lose more principals and foreign ship owners,” he said.
Ramirez, a seasoned seafarer, claimed that ambulance chasers were making ship owners and principals their milking cows.
“We consider them a mafia which hounds the industry, as these ‘starving beasts’ are waiting for the compensation that is being awarded to seafarers by some ill-fated manning agencies and principals,” he claimed.
“There are some older seafarers who pretend to be sick, and there are lawyers ready to take advantage of the situation by convincing the seafarer to file a case against the manning agency and ask for total disability,” Ramirez added in Filipino.
He said the while millions were usually paid to the seafarer who files for disability claim, more than half of the compensation is paid to the lawyer.
Ramirez said it was time stakeholders united, and the support of Congress be sought to end the practice of ambulance chasing.