Enticement required to promote Panamanian seafarers

By Marijulia Pujol Lloyd

For many years Panamanian seafarers and graduates from the Panama and Colon International Maritime University have fought through the auspices of the Panamanian Association of Merchant Navy Officials – Asociación Panameña de Oficiales de Marina (APOM) to be part of the national merchant navy, which currently has 8,200 ships registered. However, not even 1% of these ships’ crews have Panamanian nationality.

The APOM blames the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP) which historically has shown little support towards them, mainly because this government institution has not established an incentive policy that will make the hiring of Panamanian seafarers attractive to ship owners and operators.

Ship operators are companies in charge of equipping ships, getting their supplies, hiring crew and maintaining the vessel seaworthy that is their property or under their administration.

APOM members at the Cathedral Square.

APOM members at the Cathedral Square.

To make matters worse, on the recent official visit to China, the AMP administrator, Jorge Barakat, during the signing of a maritime agreement with China, mentioned that his institution will encourage the hiring of Chinese seafarers in ships with Panamanian flag.

This comment did not go unnoticed and caused a series of protests on the part of the APOM and other sectors of the industry, that see this move as negative, because it gives special privileges to foreign nationals over Panamanians, which is very unfair.

According to Captain Clemente Forero of APOM, what Panamanian seafarers want most is to have a legislation that would make ship operators to hire a percentage of Panamanians on their ships, giving a chance to students who are on the last part of their degree, so that they have the opportunity to do their professional sea time on board a vessel and complete the entry to their careers, instead of having to change professions.

Captain Forero said: “the majority of the officers cannot find a place on a ship because a great majority of nations do not validate the licenses of the Panamanians. The cadets who have not found a ship on which to do their thesis work, is not because they did not want to, but were never given a chance.”

UMIP cadets are unable to be hired by ship operators.

UMIP cadets are unable to be hired by ship operators.

Every year in Panama, around 150 to 200 cadets graduate from the Panama International Maritime University and Colon University after finishing their theoretical studies, but only a small percentage manage to find a place for a year of sea time on a ship.

A former student of the UMIP told The Bulletin that for the last few years he has been forced to work as an engineer on a local vessel in Colon, because he cannot get hired as a crew member to complete his sea time and thesis. Until that happens he will not become a merchant navy officer.

Forero said that in 2013 the APOM presented a Bill to the AMP highlighting possible incentives for ship operators to hire Panamanian cadets, as well as creating a fund to improve the education of seafarers, but nothing has happened.

Over the last three weeks, the APOM members have protested at the Cathedral Square, near the Presidency of the Republic and, again presented a list with their demands to a government official.

He said that those demands will be discussed by the Cabinet in the near future.

Forero concluded by saying: “there are plenty of professional seafaring people in Panama. Why do they not hire us, instead of promoting the hiring of foreign nationals on ships flying Panamanian flag?

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