Dr. Conrad Oca, President of the Association of Maritime Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines

In the thick of the pandemic, the Associated Maritime Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines celebrated six decades of service to the Filipino seafarer with minimal fanfare. With the challenges of crew change looming large, Dr. Conrad Oca, current President of AMOSUP, instead focuses on getting those who have been onboard their vessels far longer than normal back home; and replacing them with a fresh set of seafarers. “We are collaborating with the international seafarer community so that we can have the most efficient crew change,” he says.

Effecting crew change, while on the forefront of AMOSUP’s recent activities, is not the only item on AMOSUP’s agenda. “Small programs, big projects—they’re all there for the benefit of the seafarers and their families, so that their lives will get better. That’s always been our objective,” says Dr. Oca. Of course, there are other challenges as well. “There’s the advent of technology, and shipping is becoming automated… People are scared that they might lose their jobs. But what we tell them is that we have to re-tool ourselves. These [automated] ships still need to be monitored. Even if it’s fully automated, someone still needs to be on the ship, on the shore. We [will still be] relevant.”

That’s why AMOSUP invests heavily in the education of maritime students, particularly those in the Maritime Academy of the Asia and the Pacific (MAAP). There are classes with 3D modeling, simulators, drone use, remote operations and the like. The school also has a Japan-built ship so that students can do actual onboard training. “A lot of resources have been poured into the Academy,” he says, “The students just don’t realize it.

“We sent MAAP graduates to the World Maritime University. We now have two graduates with master’s degrees, one in Maritime Education, the other in Logistics. Logistics is a good start for the Philippines to broaden its role in the maritime industry. Logistics, supply chain…how to get this product from A to B, [from store] to your dinner table. It’s a huge endeavor. Did you know that Amazon now has its own ships? One of the biggest companies in the world is in our industry! So there’s a lot of potential for this [field].  We would like to see the Philippines as the premier shipping hub. Not only for the manning industry, but for shipbuilding, logistics, everything.”

The main vision, after all, is to secure the employment of the Filipinos. This vision has remained unchanged since AMOSUP was founded by Dr. Oca’s father, Capt. Gregorio Oca. While many men would find it intimidating to step into Capt. Oca’s big shoes, Dr. Oca instead finds comfort in it. “I feel better that [people] look at me as Capt. Oca’s son. He has been able to build relationships, especially with the international community. I’m really lucky—he cultivated those relationships, and now I’m reaping the benefits. Because of the name my father built, the reputation…when they find out I’m Capt. Oca’s son, they are more receptive to our ideas.”  

Of course, comparisons can’t be helped. Capt. Oca and Dr. Oca have differences in their leadership styles. “He was a captain, so what he says needs to be done without question. That’s the way it needs to be on ships, otherwise there would be chaos,” Dr. Oca says. “Me, I would like to think I’m more of a consensus builder. When I have the time to decide, I would like to get [thoughts] of people, gather the experts in the field, get their opinions—especially if that isn’t your area of expertise.” But he adds, “But of course, for situations when I need to decide immediately, I do so. It depends on the situation.”

One program of Capt. Oca that Dr. Oca has continued is the proper channels for grievances. This addresses the growing problem of litigiousness among the seafarers, and the consequent strengthening competition from other nations. Dr. Oca explains, “It’s not a matter of skill, knowledge, or attitude. I think [Filipino seafarers still have it]. It’s because these days more people are prone to getting blinded by the commercial side, the what’s-in-it-for-me outlook. Ship owners get turned off by the court cases filed, brought on by the litigious seafarers. And unscrupulous ambulance chasers add to the problem. The mentality shouldn’t be ‘I, Me, Myself.’ [The seafarers] have to think of the big picture. It’s about employment of thousands and thousands of Filipinos, and not just yourself.

“Nothing will prosper in court if there is no case filed, right? So that’s our role. We ask the parties to settle the case amicably through the grievance procedure. It’s been very effective these days. We also talk to the Department of Labor sometimes. It’s a matter of [clearly] communicating what needs to be done.” Dr. Oca also stresses the importance of keeping lines of communications open, and maintaining relationships with the government, the people in the industry, and management. “If you have good relationships, you can always sit down at the table and talk.”

It goes back to the legacy left by Capt. Oca, and how Dr. Oca strives to continue it. “Of course, it’s very good to have the reputation of Capt. Oca,” says Dr. Oca. “We build on it, we strengthen it further, and on that basis we build more projects, we build more facilities, we build more programs to the betterment of the Filipino seafarer.”

The future looks bright for the Philippine maritime industry.

Rheea Hermoso-Prudente

Rheea loves words, food, books, travel,  paper, and water in any form (though not necessarily in that order). She recently moved up to the foggy mountains of Baguio with her husband, two daughters, and portly cat. She homeschools her kids, and dreams of making a go at homesteading.