By Marcus Hand from Singapore
Back around 2002 – 2003 the fear of the rise of Chinese crewing was a very real one for many manning companies in the Philippines – the sheer size of the Chinese population suggested the number one supplier seafarers could easily be squeezed out by lower cost competition from across the South China Sea.
For a number of reasons though it has played out rather differently than the doomsayers expected.
The shipping boom from 2003 to 2008 suddenly made seafarers, in particular well-trained officers, a precious commodity. Companies in the Philippines responded to this by working with international shipowners and managers to train more officers, something that both helped shipping as a whole and was good for the long-term development of the industry in the Southeast Asian crewing capital.
There was also the fact that the driving force of the boom was China itself, whose shipowning sector expanded rapidly as a result. As it turns out much of the growth in Chinese seafaring has been to serve its own fleet, rather than the wider international on, which is the bread and butter of the Philippines crewing industry.
Certainly some major ship managers have a strong presence in China in terms of crewing, but again this is in major part to serve the Chinese market itself. Meanwhile the English language skills of the Philippines seafarer remains a strong attraction to owners and managers.
At the top end of the Philippines market the business has also diversified with a major presence in providing hotel personnel to the fast growing cruise ship market, and also into the BPO (business process outsourcing) sector, which now employs over a one million people in the country.
Looking ahead the fact that many owners and managers now have made major investments with local partners in the Philippines means they are not about run away quickly. Yes they invest in other relatively “new” locations as well such as Myanmar and Croatia, but they have a strong footprint in the Philippines.
One such company is Thome Group which has invested significantly in Manila in recent years. “As long as the Philippines can produce competent officers who can compete with other nationalities then it will continue to remain an important recruitment hub,” comments Claes Eek Thorstensen, president of the Thome Group.
The landscape has changed, and the Philippines crewing sector has adapted and grown significantly since 2002 – 2003, so the news that China has overtaken it absolute terms in the supply of global seafarers is not the apocalypse for the country’s manning industry that it was once imagined to be.
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