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OSG Ship Management, Inc.’s head of international crewing, Eduard Tkalcic, may be the Pinoy seafarers’ biggest fan. Carmela Huelar finds out how and why.
The Filipino seafarers’ world-class quality in the international global fleet is already common knowledge, and OSG Ship Management Inc.’s Head of International Crewing Eduard Tkalcic has been aware of this even before it was substantiated by numbers and figures in recent years.
He shares that joining OSG as a top executive and relocating to Manila from Singapore was the perfect decision. His passion for the sea is as strong as his personal conviction that Filipino seafarers are indeed one of the best, if not the best in their jobs, and working nearest to them is actually like coming home to a culture he was exposed to in his time as a seafarer
“Twenty-three years I was sailing and in eighteen years of that, I sailed with Filipino officers and crew. I started dealing with them in the early ’80s. I worked with Filipinos in my long years at sea and I can attest to their work habits, their adaptability and their dedication to work,” he shares. Tkalcic remembers that, even then, he had no doubt that responsibility was never a problem with Filipino seafarers. He adds that it was a relationship based on mutual respect. “They follow you because they also believe in you, and that I think is a trait that should be nurtured more than ever,” he asserts.
Affinity with the Filipinos
Tkalcic shares a bond with Filipino seafarers, not only from working with them, but also because he was born in a place with a natural affinity to the sea. He was born in Rijeka, Croatia’s foremost port city and the third largest in the country. Tkalcic says, “I was the first seafarer in my family. My father was an engineer and worked in construction. I chose it at that time because it seemed the easiest to do, Rijeka being a seafaring city and with a big maritime university.”
Tkalcic further shares that he wanted to start his own life without the support of his parents. “In 1977,” he relates, “I started sailing under Acomarit Shipping, stayed for 20 years, and then started with Torm Ship management and was assigned for seven years in Singapore as head of international crewing. I finally joined OSG in 2007.”
His first job was to “clean house”, so to speak. OSG soon after broke up with its partner company in Manila and set up its own office and building. It wasn’t a good way to end a relationship, but it had to be done. He reveals, “We separated in 2007 and we took all our ships and management.”
OSG is currently the biggest employer of officers in Manila and has the biggest number of ships fully manned by Filipino crew. Fifty-two ships are with Filipino crew, and 45 of which are fully manned by Filipinos. “This just shows how much we value and trust our Filipino crew,” Tkalcic stresses, adding that although they have Russians and Chinese in their pool, the Filipinos would always be their first choice.
Type of vessel
At OSG, Tkalcic shares that they developed the concept that “Filipinos can run any kind and type of ships. All our efforts are aimed at educating our Filipino seafarers to be able to man the biggest and most complicated types of ships in the world.”
“I’ve never had issues with my Filipino crew,” he shares. “It’s their attitudes towards learning and the fact that they are not afraid to ask when they do not know something. They not only follow instructions, but they can also make a decision, which is something I personally encourage. They think with their own head and do not just blindly follow—I’ve never supported that kind of attitude,” he says.
According to Tkalcic, Filipinos are trainable and, more importantly, willing to learn and educate themselves. They can be trusted with running any type of vessel, especially tankers, which we all know needs specialized training and education.
Challenges facing the company
Asked about the challenges that still pose a threat to the marketability of Filipino seafarers, Tkalcic zeroes in on the problems in handling “poaching”. He points out, “We have the biggest pool of officers in Manila in the Philippines (almost 1,000). Naturally, we always have other companies poach from us, but we never poach from them.”
“We’ve always had that philosophy—since I came to this company, I discouraged that kind of attitude of taking people from other companies. We even had an undertaking of meeting other major people in the industry and we told them that we should not be doing that because we are investing so much in our seafarers,” he says.
As for seafarers, Tkalcic says, “We try to educate them to love the company they are working for. If they like us, they can stay with us; but if they don’t like what we are doing, they can go. And yes, I know there are still many companies that have this poaching attitude. It costs less for them because they don’t invest and spend money for training. They just give them high wages, which they can afford because they don’t spend money on seafarers’ training.” Losing a master would cost a company about $40,000. A new one would cost just about the same. “One would spend $20,000 to educate a new master and $20,000 to get a new one,” he discloses.
Tkalcic narrates, “I’ve had good and bad experiences in my career as a seafarer and a sea captain. When I was a cadet, I had a master who didn’t allow me to go to the bridge. But this captain had a notion that cadets should only clean and do menial jobs like painting. It wasn’t really a good experience.”
On the second ship, however, Tkalcic shares, “I had a captain who showed me the ropes and became a father figure. He would encourage me to ask and to suggest and explore. He was very patient in teaching me the basic things. You don’t learn this in school. I decided from that moment on that I would forget my first master and I will follow the attitude of my second master because he showed me what true seamanship is.”
To his Filipino crew, Tkalcic says, “All of you are potential candidates to replace me in this job. This is your future. Aim for it. Don’t stop what you are doing right now. Strive higher to become something else. By getting a better position, you can provide better for your family and you will feel better because it is recognition of your good work. Your goal in going to the sea is to be a master. To command a ship! If you don’t have the aspiration of being that or a chief engineer, then do not go to sea at all because you will stop at a certain level.”
Previously published in Seafarer Asia, August 2013. Seafarer’s Spotlight Expat. Story by Carmela Huelar, photography by Paolo Vecina.