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Saving fellow seafarers from financial crisis

Saving fellow seafarers from financial crisis
Yashika F. Torib April 27, 2022

A BRAND-NEW house, car, travel, gadgets and education of children from both the immediate and extended family — these are some of the usual things found on the priority list of a Filipino seafarer who is actively sailing.

Research conducted by the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines shows that despite seafaring being one of the professions with lucrative salaries, a lot of Filipino seafarers still retire broke or continue to work onboard past their retirement age.

This is attributed to over-generosity to loved ones, free-spending and lack of fiscal discipline.

For Paul Vincent Sanchez, a licensed officer in charge of navigational watch, eight years was all it took to realize that a rewarding job is only as good as a person's fiscal knowledge and discipline.

Like many Filipino seafarers before him, Sanchez was lured by the promise of "free world travel while earning dollars" by the profession.

Indeed, the young man saw the world in-between days of hard labor at sea and longing for his family back home.

Sunny days for Sanchez were soon over the day his sister suffered from a thyroid storm. "I was the breadwinner then. Her medication and intensive care unit (ICU) admission took a toll on my finances," Sanchez recalled.

His sister passed away.

Sanchez was among the hundreds of thousands of seafarers who got stranded onboard at the height of the pandemic. For 16 months, he was unable to return home. It was during this time that Sanchez was struck with a realization.

"It was not the terminal illnesses that [put to heel] my family. It was our lack of preparation for such occurrences. Ten years before my sister passed, my mom died of cancer. I had to forego my college education just so we could have her treated," he shared.

"None of us in the family had health insurance to cover for emergencies and illnesses," he added.

When the 30-year-old seafarer returned home, he immediately acquired an insurance policy for himself. Soon after, he found himself trying to save other seafarers from the spell of extravagance.

"What truly pushed me to become a financial advisor was my life experiences, of how hard it is to not have something to fall back on. I am also able to transition into another profession that touches my passion for talking and helping people out.

Today, I am helping people prepare for the rainy days ahead. I hope that my experiences and struggles can be a lesson for them to do better," he said.

Amid helping people with their finances, another tragedy struck Sanchez's family. His father developed a brain tumor; he was not covered by any medical insurance.

"We struggled to provide for his treatment and operation. We still lost him, however," he lamented.

At such a point, Sanchez fully felt the blow of what many other seafarers are going through financially. "It is the most common financial challenge among seafaring families — the absence of an emergency fund. The typical mentality for most is to build a house and buy a car.

Nothing is saved for the emergency fund.

"As much as possible, emergency funds should be at least three times their monthly income. Spending should be divided into tiers of priority, and it should always include insurance policy and investment. It is an assurance that we and our family will be covered should we be unable to work.

"With the pandemic going on, employment in the seafaring industry can be difficult. Even if we get hired again, the reality is that we are in contractual employment for the rest of our careers.

The moment we disembark, we are left with nothing but our recent earnings if we have no savings."

Many seafarers are hesitant to exchange their shipboard jobs for shore-based employment or business, mainly due to the fact that the salary is not as lucrative.

For Sanchez, however, everything depends on the grit, perseverance, persistence and discipline of a person to survive whatever situation they are in — values that are all present in a Filipino seafarer.