December 13, 2022
BRUSSELS — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Sunday night said the government was doing everything it could for the Philippines to pass the European Maritime Safety Agency’s (Emsa) evaluation, which the country has failed since 2006, to avert possible job losses for some 50,000 Filipino seafarers deployed on European Union (EU)-flagged vessels.
Speaking to reporters onboard PR001 en route to Belgium, the President said he would raise the issue with EU leaders during his participation in a three-day summit here.
The President is here to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-EU Commemorative Summit where he is expected to raise maritime cooperation in his meetings with officials.
Early this year, the EU flagged the Philippines for deficiencies in local seafarer training and education, warning the government of possible nondeployment of Filipino maritime workers for lack of Emsa-certified licenses.
“You have to understand that the accreditation that we are trying to get is dependent upon us,” he told reporters.
“It’s not something you can debate about. You comply. We’ll have to comply so that we will be accredited. No, it’s not discretionary,” he said.
Mr. Marcos assured Filipino seafarers that government agencies involved in the maritime industry in the country were “working very hard” to comply with EU standards.
“And this is our last chance, so we have to really get it done,” he said.
“The whole industry is working to make it happen,” he added, noting that the government would not want to put thousands of Filipino seafarers in a “bad place.”
Jerome Pampolina, assistant secretary for sea-based services at the Department of Migrant Workers, told a House hearing in October that this would be the final year for the Philippines to adopt corrective measures and comply with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers being implemented by Emsa.
“I think they’ve changed their approach now to the accreditation. And I think we’ll be all right,” the President said.
Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed that Filipino seafarers send home about $6 billion (P330 billion) every year.
Pampolina said “this amount of remittances is also at risk should the country fail to meet the minimum global standards of maritime education, training and certification.”
According to Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Eduardo Jose de Vega, one in every five foreign seafarers on EU-flagged ships is from the Philippines.
In his pre-departure speech on Sunday in Manila, President Marcos assured Filipinos that he would push for Philippine priorities during his meetings with EU leaders here, including maritime cooperation.
Last month, Marcos already ordered a collective effort involving several government agencies to ensure that the country’s training program and accreditation system for seafarers would finally hurdle EU standards, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople said.
According to Ople, tasked to come up with an “implementation plan” were the departments of migrant workers, transportation, foreign affairs, and labor and employment, as well as the Commission on Higher Education.
On a positive note, Ople said the Philippines was “almost back to the prepandemic level of deployment of seafarers since the cruise ships have returned,” referring to the increased hiring since border controls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic were relaxed.
As a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Ople said EU shipping companies have turned to Filipino seafarers to make up for the shortfall since Ukraine could not supply seafarers anymore.
Before Russia’s invasion in February this year, Ukraine was the world’s sixth biggest supplier of seafarers.
“With Ukraine (seafarers) gone, EU shipping companies went looking and there’s a preference for Filipino seafarers,” Ople said.
According to the 2021 maritime transport report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the Philippines was the top provider of seafarers globally, followed by Indonesia, China, and India.