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Valuing the sacrifices of a modern-day seafarer

Valuing the sacrifices of a modern-day seafarer
Yashika F. Torib January 29, 2020

Seafarers wrestle over a wide array of stress-inducing pressures at sea, things that include but are not limited, to the lack of shore leave, increased paperwork, working with fewer people, isolation and homesickness.

While all these shipboard pressures take a terrible toll on the mental wellbeing of a sailor, another strain weighs heavy on the mind of seafarers, Filipinos on shore leave in particular — information overload.

ccording to Capt. Antonio Ladera, Crewing Management Partner of Pacific Ocean Manning Inc. (POMI)-VShips, the pressures of the seafaring profession begins at shore, months prior to their shipboard deployment when trainings, assessments and examinations consume a chunk of their shore leave.

“This is one of the most pressing issues of the industry. There’s way too much training for a crew to absorb in a short period of time,” Capt. Ladera said, adding that new and updated versions of these trainings released every year only makes the situation more difficult for seafarers who opted to spend time with family after six to nine months of working at sea.

“It is true that familiarization and refresher trainings are necessary to keep our seafarers abreast with the new technology on ships and be at par with international standards. It enhances their skills and knowledge as professionals. But, when you look at it closely, are they really doing it to improve themselves, or has all these become a ‘just for compliance’ thing?”

The veteran captain noted that for master mariners alone, it takes 20 to 30 trainings for them to become fully compliant to the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention. The merchant marine career is also the only profession in the country where an individual would have to take multiple Board Licensure Examinations to be promoted to the highest position.

“They take these all while on vacation, oftentimes competing for time supposedly [meant to be] spent with their respective families. And so apart from the divided attention, our seafarers are also under the constant strain of information overload” Capt. Ladera observed in his 20 years of working in the manning industry.

He furthered that as this may have no instantaneous solution, proper implementation will help alleviate the stress on seafarers. “If you study STCW closely, it is stated that trainings should be done onboard ships for a more realistic and precise application, nonetheless, we have familiarization courses, computer-based training, and simulator trainings.

“These are all necessary to keep up with the constantly evolving shipboard technology, and as with all industries, those who do not innovate die a natural death,” Ladera said in reference to business strategies and how it has improved and constrained people.

“Seafaring used to be exciting; nowadays, going onboard is no longer that. There are a lot more sacrifices to be made apart from leaving your family for a long period — information overload, increased paper works and audits, social isolation, and harsh working conditions at sea. In more ways than one, technology has controlled our lives by consuming all our time learning and keeping up with its ever evolving features, otherwise, we’ll get left behind,” he said.

He also mentioned that the manning industry is now grappling with the oversupply of seafarers even when the demand has never increased for years. “Before, there are more ships than seafarers, but nowadays, there are multiple countries that are producing world-class mariners for the same number of vessels. Our erstwhile advantage of English proficiency is no longer a gaining factor because all other nationalities can speak the same.

Only a quarter of our annual graduates from more than 100 maritime schools are given the opportunity to work onboard ships, the rest end up being underemployed,” he explained.

Ladera takes inspiration in all the challenges hounding the manning and training sector to hang his hat as a ship captain and work on shore with the maritime industry. “Early on, I have already observed these challenges and I found more opportunities to help my brothers in the profession by being here on land,” he said, recalling the certainty he felt to retire from sailing way back in 1989 to serve the maritime industry.

He graduated from FEATI University in 1980 and spent 10 years sailing onboard, starting with reefer vessels, car carrier, bulk carriers and mostly all types of tankers until he become captain at a young age of 29. During the 10 years he was at sea and when on vacation he discovered the love for teaching. “At the time, I was the only the instructor from the merchant marine profession to teach Basic Safety training Courses and eventually did tanker courses in the late 1980’s, all my other contemporaries were retired Navy personnel,” he recalled.

In 1990 he retired from sailing and sat as the executive marine manager for several manning agencies. He is celebrating his third decade this year with the maritime industry.

Excluding all of his titles and accomplishments, Ladera sees himself as a hard-working man who sees people equally regardless of their social or economic positions in life. He is also known to be a generous man who opts to quietly help others not for the accolades and honor it may bring to his name, but simply to make a change in the life of others.