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While many Filipinos are concerned with the disastrous situation that is happening to our frontliners, there is another sector of our society that we may be neglecting—those in the maritime industry. Society may forget that without merchant ships and seafarers, all cargo, including the medical supplies and PPEs that our frontliners need badly, cannot be transported between countries. As the world is taking all precautionary measures and closing their borders to prevent the spread of the virus, crew changes are becoming a serious challenge.
Of course, this decision made by most shipping companies is a way to protect the seafarer by suspending the exchange of crew, as this will lessen the number of social interactions they need to undergo. But while the seafarers on board who are done serving their contracts are in agony to be with their family in this time, the seafarers who are supposed to relieve them have long been waiting to be on board so they can start earning to provide for their families.
INTERCARGO, a non-profit association representing the interest of dry cargo vessel owners, said it already, “Seafarers need our support and compassion with measure, rather than overzealous, restrictions in relation to COVID-19. Without efficient crew change, the supply chain would break down, leading to basic product shortages and greater hardships for people around the world. Banning crew changes in ports bring high risks to crews, ships, ports, and society.”
One of the seafarers who consulted me for emotional support is worried about how long his savings would last. He disembarked last December, and still no idea when he will be able to rejoin the ship. Yes, his car and house amortizations were extended by the bank, but this is just a simple suspension. It does not mean the cancellation of payment. When everything goes back to normal, he doesn’t know how he will be able to pay his accumulated obligations.
While the number of recoveries is increasing, it may take some time before international trade goes back to normal. The conservative outlook is that there will be a gradual recovery, and we are crossing our fingers that things will normalize by the end of the year. But until then, how far can seafarers endure the belt-tightening strategy that they are already doing? To all seafarers who are depressed about how you can move forward, not only emotionally, but most importantly, financially, remember you are not alone. Millions of Filipinos right now, seafarers or non-OFWs, employees, or businesspeople across the country are worried too. If you want some ideas on what next steps to take, you may consider these.
Have an honest conversation with your employer
Filipinos are not known for being assertive. Now is the right time to embrace courage and have an honest conversation with your employer. If you feel they cannot promise you employment for a couple of months, start sending out your resumé. Take quarantine time as job hunting time. Despite the pandemic, many companies lack the appropriate workforce. They may be smalltime players, they don’t have attractive benefits, or they don’t have a competitive salary. If your top priority is to reboot your income, take advantage of what is available right now, then once this gets back to normal, you have an opportunity to join a much bigger company. After all, if you are looking for career advancement, it is easier to achieve that with a small company.
Explore other ways to earn income
In my last article I said that COVID-19 is also a blessing. Perhaps the message for you is to stay with your family for good. Find a part-time or short-term job to help you through these tough times. In my case, since I knew that seafaring would not be an attractive long-term career for any reason, (this will require another article) I started a new career in the financial and consulting industry. From there, the Cardinal Buoy Financials was born.
Accept that we are living in an uncertain and scary chapter of history and expect that it will happen again in the future—not necessarily a pandemic—but this stressful situation might be the new normal. So, learn how to adapt.
Eliminate any expenses you don’t genuinely need
If you don’t have a budget, create one now. Review all your expenses and categorize them into essentials and non-essentials. I know you know what you need to do with your non-essentials.
Put long-term goals on hold
If you are on your way in building your dream house, don’t be ashamed with what your neighbor will say. They cannot provide you your mortgage payment, let alone the tuition fee of your children that is due a few months from now.
During this time that you are bombarded by negative and fake news over mainstream media and social media, it pays to be proactive. We have been trained onboard every Saturday on what to do during abandon ship and fire and explosion drills. This time, I am telling you, “This is not a drill!” Get your survival kit fast, but don’t forget to bring your optimism.
Yes, this, too, shall pass.