REPRESENTATIVES from organisations representing seafarers, shipowners and other maritime industry employers met with Filipino President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr as part of his foreign policy tour in Brussels, Belgium.

At the top of the agenda was an immediate concern of employers and crew that 50,000 seafarers faced being barred from crewing European Union-flagged vessels over qualifications issues.

The threat is due to a warning from the EU’s maritime regulator that the Philippines needed to address unacceptable deficiencies in crew education, training and certification. Failure to do so would push out Filipino seafarers, a labour source so critical that one delegate described as “too big to fail”.

Mr Marcos pledged his administration would do “everything” to address these deficiencies identified by the European Commission’s Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) “to prevent job losses among Filipino seafarers,” he said.

Delegates also urged Mr Marcos to defend Filipino jobs, by reforming the country’s problematic seafarers claims industry.

While intended to secure speedy resolution and compensation for injured and aggrieved crew, the injury claims industry system today sees seafarers’ hardship and goodwill exploited by some lawyers.

The victimisation of Filipino seafarers by people or groups to make fraudulent and costly injury claims against their employers has resulted in companies to look elsewhere for their seafarer workforce.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, in 2000, Filipino crew made up 28.5% of the global seafarer population, however by 2020, that figure had dropped to 14%. Any further decline would jeopardise the US$6.54-billion in wages Filipino seafarers send home each year to their families – money critical to the Philippines economy.

Seafarers’ unions, including Philippines-based AMOSUP have supported employers’ calls for a crackdown on the unethical practices of the claims industry, who, they say, “capitalise on the hardships and even the demise of seafarers.”

President Marcos also revealed to the delegates that he had ordered his Department of Migrant Workers minister, Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople, to establish a maritime advisory committee to address the training issue and consider reforms to the broken seafarers’ claims system.

The International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs (IACGMA) will draw on experts from both industry and the workforce to support the Philippines’ government. IMEC, ICS, ITF and the International Labor Organization will all be invited to share their expertise.

The committee’s advice could be key as the Philippines, like other global maritime leaders, looked to navigate its way through the challenges of the future, such as climate change.

The meeting with the President in Belgium represents the first official engagement of IMEC, the ICS and ITF, with a national leader since the bodies recently signed an MOU with the aim of maximising the impact of their advocacy efforts on behalf of crew and industry.

IMEC chief executive officer Francesco Gargiulo said, “It was refreshing to meet a leader that is so in tune with the needs of his citizens today. I was impressed with the President’s grasp of the complex picture of the maritime industry in the Philippines and comforted by his stern determination to tackle our common challenges head on. The creation of this advisory board is an inspired initiative which we are convinced will soon help steer the country towards calmer seas. We look forward to working with his team on current and future challenges to ensure the Philippines retain their key position at the table of global shipping.”

ICS Secretary General Guy Platten said seafarers are at the very heart of our industry and cannot be forgotten as we look to the future.

“Every member of the delegation meeting with President Marcos Jr today recognises this and we ensured that our seafarers were not lost sight of. As a major seafaring nation, the Philippines is key to our industry and its future, and collaboration and co-operation with governments is vital,” Mr Platten said.

“Our industry’s importance cannot be underestimated and the collective representation within the maritime sector today shows the willingness to work together for a brighter future. As ever our industry strives to find solutions to the challenges ahead, ensuring safe shipping operations for the effective continuation of global trade. We look forward to working more closely with the Philippines.”

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton said the Philippines is a crewing powerhouse.

“Filipino seafarers have contributed much to our global shipping industry over the decades. But it is not without its issues. That’s why it was encouraging for seafarers’ unions to hear President Marcos acknowledge some of those issues in Brussels. Better yet, the president has already started to take action with the establishment of a new tripartite maritime advisory body,” Mr Cotton said.

“The ITF alongside our partners in IMEC and the ICS, stand willing and ready to offer our whole-of-industry insights so that the Philippines can deliver the good outcomes that we all agree Filipino crew deserve.

“We want to make sure the Philippines is well-positioned to make the most of the opportunities coming down the line. Chief among these is helping the world to meet the massive training challenge before us as the industry needs to upgrade seafarers to operate a decarbonised global fleet. We want the Philippines to be at the table, with a fair share. After all, we’ll never get to a zero-carbon shipping sector without maritime leaders being engaged.”