This year marks my ten years in this field. I started way back 2008 as a deck cadet and rose up to my present rank as Second Officer. Within these ten years, I have met different kinds of people onboard, experienced many kinds of adventures at sea and heard many stories. Stories of my crewmates, their life at sea and at land.
Let’S cut the crap. Let’s admit, being a seaman is one, or if not, the most prized kind of job in the Philippines. If you will round up all people in the working class in this country, seamen are the highest paid workers although they are considered as one of the most sought-after due to the fact that being a seafarer is a very hard job but the prize for working in a very hostile environment is high. Because of this, when you say that you are a seaman, you are regarded as a “special” kind of person. Let’s admit to that. I have too, experienced that.
When a seaman is in his vacation, people around him are subjected to say something about his work, his experiences and other stuff that he have been through since they are working for months abroad away from the family and friends. But sometimes people are going way too far beyond the matters that these seamen are irking to hear, and causing so much uproar to the extent that stereotypes are created.
But what are the things seamen are always tired of hearing? Read this if you know someone working at sea so that you can realize that being a seaman is no joke.
1. “Pasalubong ko ha?” (Don’t forget my bring home)
As in really? Haha. This holds true to all seamen who are on their last days onboard, and these words are very common to hear from their family, friends and other people. In this case, seamen will be forced to oblige to buy things to be given away when they come home like chocolates, perfumes, clothes, liquors, etc.
Remember, they are working onboard so that they can fulfill their dreams, purchase their needs and sustain their families. Not to give you pasalubongs.
2. “Marami ka na sigurong chicks abroad” (I guess you have a lot of girls abroad)
Several years ago, this may be the real deal with the seafarers. But those days were gone. With the implementation of ISPS Code, girls cannot come aboard and offer their “extra service” to the sailors very easily. Basically, they are not allowed to go onboard because all non-organic personnel essential to ship operations are not allowed to come.
In case they will have a chance to go ashore, chances of going to clubs or house of ill repute are very hard to achieve because nowadays seafarers are now interested in finding malls or restaurants. Prices of girls today are skyrocketing as much as US$100 so some are spending their money on more important things.
I won’t say that the culture of “every port report” is gone nowadays, but the real deal here is, seafarers are now trying to avoid the stereotypes that had marred their reputation for a long time.
3. “Mayaman ka naman eh” (You’re a rich man)
Admit it. Compared to the normal salary of a working Filipino in land, seafarers get a generous amount of cash during salary time. It is due to the fact that they carry goods and operate ships at the cost of their lives. They usually earn three to five times than the average Filipino and sometimes twice than the average OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers). That is why it is seamen are regarded as “mapera” or “millionaires”.
Years before, seamen are known to be “one day millionaire”. To explain this further, to be a one day millionaire, you must spend a very large amount of cash on your first few days in the Philippines on not so important things like throwing a party, shopping at the malls and others. This scenario created a stigma to all people that all seamen have lots of money to splurge. Of course, not all people have money that is so easy to spend to.
But nowadays, seamen are now starting to be financially literate. They are now concerned with their earnings, and avoiding unnecessary expenses if possible. It may be true, yes that seamen are in good status in life, but this seems uncomfortable for them to hear from other people that they have lots of money. One of the reason is…
4. “Pautang naman” (Can I borrow [money])?
Personally, I hate this. It’s not that I don’t want to help people who are in need, but sometimes it is abused at constant basis. But don’t get me wrong. I usually lend money if and only if it is life or death situation, or emergency cases. Sometimes I also borrow money from my colleagues whenever I am in need. In short, I lend money if I have an assurance that they can return it in time.
Seafarer’s money are hard earned money. It is a product of their sweat, blood and tears, molded by solitude and patience and longing to go home safe and sound. This is the reason why some seamen are reluctant to lend money.
5. “Pang lalakeng trabaho ang pagmamarino” (Seafaring is a manly job)
Seafaring job is known to be dominated by men for hundred of years. The harshest conditions at sea, the hardest jobs, plus the isolation from the outside world are known to be endured by only men for a long time. It is a known fact before that women cannot stand the life at sea.
But those days were over. As the years go by, people are gradually accepting the gender equality among men and women. Although it is still very unusual for the normal seafarer, women are now starting to try out this job and become seawomen. If men can do it, why can’t they? Everything that a man do onboard, they also do and carry out. But the risk here is that they are prone to sexual harrasment and other forms of maltreatment. In this case, some companies are now tightening their policies regarding female workers onboard. It was said that seawomen are more proactive, meticulous and efficient in jobs than their other counterpart.
Another faction is now rising in numbers as the members of the LGBT community, mainly openly gays and bisexuals, as well as very manly but discreet gays. Although a long time ago they are already in this industry, they are hiding in the closet due to the fact that being a homosexual onboard is like a “contagious disease”. Most of the seamen onboard are “strictly straight” and bigots so some of them are keeping their true colors as much as possible. But now, the seafaring community are gradually accepting that they can contribute to the advancement of the maritime industry, and they too, also have families that they support.
6. “Seaman ka pala. Cruise ship ba yan?” (So you’re a seaman. Is that cruise ship?)
With all due respect to our brothers in cruise ships, large percentage of seafarers are employed on cargo ships. Life at cargo ships is very different from cruise ships because all of the luxuries in life are absent, or if not, limited. Cruise ships offer things that you can normally see in land.
A typical person will think of cruise ships whenever they’ll hear of ships, or seamen. But the fact is, more seafarers are choosing cargo ships over the latter because of salary. Seafaring industry carry 90% of the world’s commodities, so this is a major impact for them to be proud of their job. Sadly, some seafarers feel coerced if they were called out working in cruise ships.
Cruise ship seafarers are also certified seafarers. They too undergone trainings and seminars to obtain certificates and seaman’s book. The only difference they got from the cargo ship seafarers is the work environment. So before you ask out any seaman regarding this one, think first that they have different lives.
7. “Trabaho yan ng mga bobo” (That’s a job of an idiot)
As early as 70s, seafaring industry is known to normal people as a job for inutiles and people who didn’t finished school. Most of the people trying out to be a seaman before are accepting hard labors onboard with muscles, body and physical efforts as assets. Intelligent aspects are not requirement and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a seaman. This became a stereotype that all seafarers are stupid, moron and uneducated.
But those days are over. Nowadays, you have to be a Marine Trasportation, Marine Engineering, Hotel and Restaurant Management or related courses to be a seaman. In order to be an officer onboard, you must take board exams to obtain license. In fact, no other courses in the Philippines that requires two to three theoretical board exams to get license, and it depends on your sea service and experience, and practical exams that are simulator based patterned from the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) of International Maritime Organization. Although Dentistry do have practical exams, ours have extensive criteria that needs a careful, sound and intelligent mind.
In addition, other board passers are now required to have Continuing Professional Development Training or CPD in order to renew their licenses. Maritime board passers have been doing this for a long time. We call it as simply “trainings” in order to refresh our knowledge and of course, renew our certificates and licenses.
As a seafarer, we are also subjected to scrutiny, stereotypes and things that are uneasy. These above items may seem funny at first, but these are painful to our ears. We are also working hard for our families so that they can have good life, so you too. In short, mind your own business.