‘Ambulance chasing, not EMSA, imperils jobs of seafarers’


THE European Commission may have secured the jobs of 50,000 Filipino seafarers, but there are still risks the maritime industry must address and which may affect around 90,000 more Filipino seafarers in the next three years.

While the Philippine government obtained the conditional nod of the Europeans, “ambulance chasing” in the Philippines and decarbonization of ships will likely affect the job prospects for Filipino seafarers and the Philippine economy as well.

Of the 2 million seafarers all over the world, the Philippines account for 14.4 percent.

Although it is still the number 1 supplier of seafarers all over the world, this percentage is already lower than the 20 percent share the Philippines enjoyed for the past years.

“As you can see, there has been a decline in the number of Filipino seafarers and ambulance chasing is one of those reasons,” Helio Vicente, Senior Manager for Policy and Employment Affairs of the International Chamber of Shipping, said in a press conference initiated by the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).

Vicente said they expect a further shortfall of supply of 90,000 Filipino seafarers in the next three years.

“In our latest report published in 2021, we expect a shortfall of around 90,000 by around 2026. So the industry must significantly increase training and recruitment levels to avoid shortage of labor supply in 2026,” he said.

Ambulance chasing in the maritime industry refers to the practice of Filipino lawyers or their agents who actively pursue seafarers who have been victims of accidents or have labor problems, prodding them to file civil suits and get the biggest settlement possible.

Francesco Gargiulo, chief executive officer of International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), quoted a study by an international group of protection and indemnity insurance that showed shipowners have paid US$34 million (P1.7 billion) to Filipino seafarers after losing cases in Philippine lower courts over a period of time.

When appealed before the Supreme Court, most of these cases were overturned. However, shipowners were only able to recover US$29,000 (P1.4 million).

“By the time the seafarers were asked to restitute the money, the seafarers were found to be indigent. That meant the compensation they were supposed to have received never went to them,” Gargiulo said.

Thus, the IMEC CEO said ambulance chasing is “much bigger” than the audit of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

‘Single biggest’ issue

“Ambulance chasing is the single biggest issue the maritime industry in the Philippines is facing,” Gargiulo said.

“It’s the reason why a number of our maritime employers have shifted their manpower source away from the Philippines, and perhaps less qualified manpower sources. It’s very frustrating,”

Shipowners are now looking at other “unconventional sources” of seafarers such as in Africa, because they don’t want to spend more money in litigation “that goes to the pockets of predatory lawyers.”

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which represents seafarers’ unions all over the world, said “there are systems in place” available even for Filipino seafarers where they can address labor problems, compensation and other benefit claims.

Last year, the ITF recovered US$30 million (P1.5 billion) worth of assistance to seafarers worldwide who are members of the union.


Aside from ambulance chasing, job prospects for Filipinos will be affected with the plan of the maritime industry to decarbonize ships.

The shipping industry accounts fpr 3 percent of global pollution.

The International Maritime Organization has given the maritime industry until 2050 to retrofit or buy new ships which do not emit carbon dioxide. However, the European Union has an earlier target of 2030.

“The seafarers landscape will be very different from what it is today. With decarbonization, seafarers will be required to develop new skills, to handle alternative fuels. If you are looking at ammonia, for example, there’s toxicity there that needs to be addressed. Flammability issues when it comes to hydrogen and so on,” Vicente explained.

Industry estimates that 800,000 seafarers will need to retrain in the mid 2030s for decarbonization.

International shipowners said they are confident that under the leadership of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and DMW Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople, the Philippine maritime industry can  address these issues as well.