THE container ship that collided Saturday with a United States destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, which resulted in the deaths of seven American sailors, sailed under the Philippine flag.
It is common to find Filipino sailors in vessels, as the Philippines is known to be the world’s top source of seafarers. The ACX Crystal declares its home port as Manila, according to MarineTraffic.com, a maritime database that records 800 million vessel positions monthly. But the vessel is not Philippine-owned. The ship has a crew of 20 Filipino seafarers who were all found to be safe after the collision. The ACX Crystal is owned by Japan’s Dainichi-Invest Corporation and operated by Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K.
The collision appears to be an accident as the area was particularly busy with sea traffic at that time. But Japan’s Coast Guard is reportedly treating it as a case of possible professional negligence since there were claims the container ship made a sudden U-turn prior to the collision.
The incident involves the US Navy and Japan’s shipping players, but the Philippine seafaring industry could face some backlash as the crew’s skill and ability could be called into question.
China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Russian Federation and Ukraine are the five largest supply countries for all seafarers (officers and ratings), the International Chamber of Shipping, representing the global shipping industry, said on www.ics-shipping.org. The Philippines is the biggest supplier of ratings, like mechanics and ordinary seaman, followed by China, Indonesia, Russian Federation and Ukraine. While China is the biggest supplier of officers, followed by the Philippines, India, Indonesia and the Russian Federation, it added.
There are over 200,000 Filipinos on board merchant vessels around the world at any given time. Ordinary seamen earn a minimum of US$1,500 a month plus benefits and bonuses. They have to bear months of separation from their families and being far from dry land but they get two to four months of break after every contract.
They are the primary source of seafarers for the global market not because they can start with a low salary but because of their being hardworking and competent.
Reports said the container ship might have slammed into the USS Fitzgerald at high speed. Questions were raised on whether the ACX Crystal was on auto-pilot or if there was any communication between the two vessels. Some ship trackers reportedly showed the container ship making a U-turn before the collision. These probabilities raised questions about what happened and about the abilities of the Filipino crew or senior officers.
It’s too early to pinpoint causes of the collision but whatever the conclusion of the investigation, the lessons would have to be learned by one or both parties.
I hope the incident would not dent the Philippines’s image as the world’s top source of seafarers.