The T/S Kapitan Felix Oca is one of two training vessels owned and operated by AMOSUP. It is 115 meters long, 6 meters wide, has a draught of 5 meters and can sail faster than 13 knots with its engines revved. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

Think of a school. What images come to mind? Tree-lined streets? A bustling cafeteria? A busy basketball court?

In Manila Bay, there’s a school like no other – a floating school for seafarers.  

Operated by the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), the T/S Kapitan Felix Oca is one of the country’s few dedicated merchant marine training ships.

Built in Japan in 1968 and previously-known as the M/V Seiun Maru, the vessel was acquired in 1997 and houses up to 180 cadets from various maritime institutions.

Many Pinoy midshipmen serve less than the prescribed 365 days aboard local or international vessels as part of their shipboard training requirements. Their assignments might span just six or eight months instead of a full year, leaving them shy of their time at sea. This is where the T/S Kapitan Felix Oca comes in.

“We aim to help midshipmen complete their time onboard so they can graduate, take their board examinations, and become competent officers,” explains Captain George dela Cruz. “Slots aren’t that expensive – cadets just need to pay for their berths, meals and training materials.”

Aside from students, the ship has a crew of 30, plus space for up to 50 additional passengers. Two classrooms can host over 100 cadets per session, while bridge and engine training rooms give midshipmen hands-on experience. Visiting guests can relax in a spacious, well-provisioned saloon.

Painted a uniform, no-nonsense grey, the vessel is 115 meters long and 16 meters wide, its powerful Hitachi B&W engines propelling it past 13 knots. “Visitors also love how we kept the vessel’s original teak wood deck intact,” adds the captain. “Aside from looking like a vintage sailing ship, the deck has good grip even when wet.” But don’t let the wooden decks or simple exterior fool you.

The vessel is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment like an Automatic Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA), Electronic Chart Display System (ECDIs) and Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS). All on board courses comply with the latest standards of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Moored behind the breakwaters of Manila Bay when not on an official voyage, the ship takes midshipmen around the country, stopping by places like Palawan and Cebu to further enrich the students’ educational and personal experiences.

AMOSUP in fact has two training vessels, with the T/S Kapitan Felix Oca the only one accepting cadets outside of the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP).

The newer but smaller M/V Kapitan Gregorio Oca is based at MAAP’s Bataan port. Spanning 78 meters, it can accommodate 24 crewmembers plus 108 handpicked IMAJ cadets from MAAP.

Having served aboard the T/S Kapitan Felix for 22 years, Captain George has been on all its major adventures. “Our shining moment came in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda, the most powerful storm to ever hit the Philippines. Less than a week after it made landfall in the Visayas, we were already sailing to Leyte to deliver relief goods and to help conduct medical missions. It was a challenging deployment, but our midshipmen were able to make a difference and help thousands of displaced Pinoy families. We look forward to helping train more cadets.”

So if you’re looking to sharpen your seamanship and complete your time at sea, contact Naess Shipping at (632) 521 1592 or MAAP at (632) 784 9100. With some luck, you might be able to book a berth and set sail with the T/S Kapitan Felix Oca – the school that floats.  

AMOSUP’s mission is to deliver holistic programs and services to uplift the lives of retired, current and upcoming Pinoy seafarers. Its educational arms help improve the practical preparation and training of cadets. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

Vintage teakwood planks give both durability plus a distinct look to the fore and aft decks of the T/S Kapitan Felix Oca, originally a Japanese training vessel until its acquisition in 1997. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

Colourful signal flags are unfurled by a pair of midshipmen. Used since the age of sail many centuries ago, the flags are used to communicate with nearby vessels and seaside stations in the highly-unlikely event that electronic communications conk out. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

Friendly Captain George dela Cruz has served aboard the T/S Kapitan Felix Oca for 22 years, ever since it was acquired by AMOSUP. “I know this ship like the back of my hand,” he beams. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

The control bridge, where the captain directs a ship’s course. The training vessel also features a mock training bridge and engine room to hone the cadets’ skills and steeliness under pressure. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

Marine engineers-in-training are constantly kept busy – cleaning, repainting, repairing, modifying and learning from the ship’s salty core of seamen instructors. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

A brightly-garbed midshipman checks the ship’s oil level. Routinary checks are the lifeblood of a well-maintained vessel. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

Bosun Juanito Patalita Sr. is at 71 years old, one of the toughest, oldest and wisest persons onboard the T/S Kapitan Felix Oca. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

Learning is constant. Midshipmen aboard the T/S Kapitan Felix Oca must review the ins-and-outs of seamanship every day. Shown are original navigational books from the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. (Gregg Yan / Seafarer Asia)

Gregg Yan

Gregg Yan is an award-winning writer and photographer who covers marginalized groups and environmental conservation issues. His work has been featured by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, CNN plus over a dozen books – including Into the Wild, his first coffee table book. He also has a monthly magazine column on wildlife.