By VG Cabuag, Business Mirror
MANILA, Philippines – Without Filipino merchant seamen in most of the world’s commercial shipping, what will become of world trade?
There is no clear answer but a hint may be gleaned from the remarks of International Maritime Organization (IMO) secretary-general Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, who on Monday called Filipino sailors the “unsung heroes” of the industry that carries most of the world trade in goods.
At the opening of the conference to amend some of the provisions of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), Mitropoulos said the international community should pay tribute to the Filipino seafarers.
“Here we are, first and foremost, to recognize the contribution of the Philippines to shipping and the international seaborne trade and pay our due tribute. [We] also like to pay due tribute to Filipino seafarers, past and present, wherever in the world they may be at this very moment, facing the elements, unsung heroes of an unsung industry,” he said at the opening.
Hundreds of maritime stakeholders are in the country for the conference, the first time that such a meeting is being held outside of London, where the IMO headquarters is located. Their decisions will affect seafarers working on all types of oceangoing vessels.
Filipino seamen, according to the latest figures from the Department of Labor and Employment, account for more than 25 percent of 1.5 million mariners worldwide, the single biggest nationality bloc.
Mitropoulos said this conference is the first ever to deal with the “human element” of seafaring, after many cases of violations of the human rights of crews as global trade expanded over the decades.
Delegates will discuss, among others, the harmonization of hours of rest to match those of the requirements of the 2006 International Labor Organization Maritime Labor Convention in order to reduce fatigue and ensure fitness for duty.
There will be discussions on the revision of maritime security standards, dangers of piracy and armed robbery on ships, prevention of alcohol and drug abuse onboard, leadership and teamwork training, marine environmental awareness training and innovative training methodologies, including e-learning.
As a result of the surge in piracy, the IMO has declared 2011 as “Piracy: orchestrating the response” as its world maritime theme. At the moment, there are 65 Filipinos from four ships still held hostage by Somali pirates.
“This, unfortunately, is the fate of the sea, as the Philippines, a maritime nation of a thousand islands, knows only too well,” said Mitropoulos.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, in his message read to the delegates, also hailed the Philippines for hosting this year’s maritime event and hopes that many of the country’s youth will join this “most fulfilling profession….With about 90 percent of the world trade being transported by shipping, it is only fair that accolades and praise be placed upon this vital segment.”