Sunday, June 27, 2010

The cheese stands alone

If you read 'Manu's Scripts,' which is available in the sidebar, you'll see some well thought out musings from one very frustrated master mariner. His most recent editorial deals with the interplay of mariner supply and developmental infrastructure in the international trades- specifically, the changing roles of India and the Philippines in sending mariners to sea.
It seems that among most of the world, there has been a heavy demand for Indian officers and Filipino ratings. This reflects the job and training availabilities in both nations- only in the last few years, the Philippines has begun fielding officers at an increasing rate, and Filipino interests are investing in the infrastructure necessary to train and field officers... in the meanwhile, India's development of the HR portion of the trades has tailed off... and it seems that there is a visible withering on the vines of quality personnel...

Anyhow, I'm certainly not experienced in the matter. I know what I read... but I also know what I see.
It's no surprise that my experience reflects that seafarer quality is reflected in the ship and in the pay. You get what you pay for, and, with a shiny new $50,000,000 Korean-built product carrier, one might expect to see a higher calibre engineering department, than, say, in a 250-foot, 50 year old steam-powered fruit boat bought for $300,000 at auction in Haiti.

There's always going to be variation among the individuals, but I've recently had my assumptions challenged in other ways- I've been dealing with a lot of tankers recently, as far as bunkering goes, and I'm seeing some VERY well trained and professionally-behaving officers from both the Phillipines AND India. I've always assumed that with our national and multiple state maritime academies cranking out officers, as well as the most bloated and nepotistic maritime union in the world (The Seafarers International Union), that the US has the most professional mariners out there. We certainly throw a lot of training funds around. The SIU, especially, has many training opportunities available for their members; this makes sense- the 'family' management knows that they have to be in the right place at the right time to preserve jobs, and that means being good at what they do. Luckily, the SIU has always had a close association with another 'organization' that knows how to protect their investments, whether by providing members with lifelong security, or matching the right kneecaps with the right baseball bat.

The Filipino sailors that I'm encountering are really, really good at what they do, at least as it applies to my job. The officers, regardless of where they're from, are either good or bad, and the logo on the stack of the ship usually tells me all I need to know.

Anyhow, my assumptions seem to be off- the American deepwater mariner is becoming an anachronism, and that's a shame. The problems that have plagued our officer ranks (declining pay scale, decreasing job security, massive opportunity costs) are now plaguing the Indian fleet, and it will almost certainly be easy to economically model the progression of the officer supply and quality problem in India based on the American experience. Likewise, it should be possible to predict the expansion and development of the Filipino officer corps, based on the historical American decline and concurrent Indian boom.

Now, I've had more than one (Indian and American both) officer tell me sotto voce that Filipinos don't make good officers. There are culture-based behaviors that aren't conducive to 'occifering' (sarcasm mine) a ship. I call BS on this for multiple reasons. First off, having an Indian officer say this shocked me, because the reasoning smelled a lot like something British out of the days of the Raj. I'm pretty sure that something similar was said about the Sepoys. And, hearing this from an American voice, I can't help but think of how the Irish in Boston once couldn't get a job that didn't require standing dong-deep in a ditch because of their incurable ignorance and Papism.

Anyhow, as it turns out, while I'm still full of assumptions, forming predictive models of the economic impact of changes in the labor force is one of the few things I can actually do on a professional level... at least, I used to be able to do that. Once upon a time, I used to be pretty good at sitting up in front of a crowd and speaking on the subject... but, it's been a while.
I could be talking out my ass. As one tug captain pointed out recently, I should almost certainly 'shut up and be a floating pump jockey." Still, just because I see trouble on the horizon but aren't in a position to help, it doesn't mean that I have to like it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On a different note, check this out. Things do not bode well for Conn. lobstermen: