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Norwegian ambassador talks about generational seafaring ties with Filipinos

Norwegian ambassador talks about generational seafaring ties with Filipinos
Yashika F. Torib November 16, 2022

IT is not often that diplomatic envoys from foreign maritime nations would share a story very much similar to that of the Filipino seafarers.

Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to the Philippines Christian Halaas Lyster is among the few whose childhood experiences ran parallel with some of the world's best mariners.

Like many Filipinos, Lyster grew up with stories of the sea. "My grandfather signed on his first ship back in 1934 onboard MS Beljanne, just before the Second World War. He started as a greaser, or the crew who oiled the ship's machinery, and eventually got promoted to chief engineer employed by the Norwegian shipping company Wilhelmsen until he retired in 1975," Lyster recalled. "He told me stories of the sea, about sailing onboard Norwegian ships during the war, and that he used to sail a lot on ships going to destinations in Southeast Asia, including Manila."

"While he never encouraged me to follow his footsteps, it sparked my desire to travel and see the world as well," he said.

After serving in the military, Lyster spent his early professional years as a prosecutor and a deputy judge. The young man was satisfied with his job until a deeper calling nagged on him.

"I wanted to do more than sit in court and listen to cases. I would like to continue working for my country even while outside its borders, and there were so many opportunities with the foreign service that appealed to me as a person. It is fascinating work," Lyster said.

He then took on posts to represent Norway in Denmark from 2010 to 2012 as the First Secretary at the Norwegian Embassy in Copenhagen, and Malaysia from 2007 to 2009 at the Norwegian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

"When I was told that my next post will be in the Philippines, I was so happy. The maritime tradition here is so strong," Lyster affirmed.

Strengthening Norway-Philippine ties

Norway and the Philippine have a long history of bilateral relations, owing traditionally to cooperation in the maritime sector. The cadetship program of the Norwegian Shipowners' Association (NSA) under the Norwegian Training Center (NTC) in Manila pioneered world-class training opportunities for aspiring seafarers.

It established opportunities for Filipino mariners to be promoted as ship officers and command a full-Filipino-crewed European-flagged vessel.

This initiative strengthened the Philippines' position in the global shipping fleet as the "seafarer of choice" and one of the "largest suppliers of seafarers in the world."

"The partnerships created through NSA and the NTC are something that strengthened bonds between our two countries. Given the number of Filipinos sailing on Norwegian ships, it shows that many shipowners are quite happy with the seafarers from the Philippines," Lyster said.

"Filipino seafarers have been aboard Norwegian ships for over decades, and bilateral ties are quite strong. It is my job to make sure that we can further strengthen and deepen these ties in years to come," he added.

Lyster said that among the shared priorities of the Philippines and Norway is the advocacy to prevent climate change through the promotion of renewable energy.

"Renewable energy has been high on the political agenda in Norway, and this is one area where we can further strengthen our ties. There's a strong link between decarbonization and the maritime industry. Right now, we are transitioning away from fossil fuels and old energy into a brave new world where everything needs to be much greener; we are talking of hydropower, offshore wind and floating solar panels that are all linked to the sea," Lyster said.

"There is a very big potential here for renewable energy. The business sector and the government must work together to take part in the green transition," he added.

Anchored in generosity

Lyster acknowledged how the ties of the Norwegian shipowners here in the Philippines go beyond wages. He mentioned the longstanding efforts of the NTC through the cadet program where individuals are given the opportunity to board ship, earn a decent wage, and through this extend opportunities to his family through education and livelihood.

The appreciation of prospects extended to other people is inculcated in Lyster by his father, the person who has a great influence on him as a person.

"My late father came from a poor background. He managed to get higher education and became an officer of the Norwegian Armed Forces. He taught me to appreciate the opportunities that I have, that he didn't have growing up. At the same time, he taught me to always remember and see those who are less fortunate," the ambassador said.

"This greatly influenced me — to appreciate what I have and extend my support to those who don't. That is something I always bring with me everywhere," Lyster softly reflected.

In between work and engagements, the affable ambassador enjoys spending time with his family who moved here in the Philippines with him. He also shared his enthusiasm for sports and well-being when outside of work.

"I am proud of having been allowed to represent my country here in the Philippines; this is a big honor. But I am also most proud of my wife and daughter for accompanying me on the other side of the world and building a life here," Lyster said.

Lyster's father-in-law also served in the country from 1994 to 1997. Øyvind Riseng was the Royal Norwegian ambassador to the Philippines under then-President Fidel V. Ramos and was in fact conferred the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of "Datu."

Norway and the Philippines will celebrate 75 years of the bilateral relationship in 2023.