When you want to meet seafarers there is only one place to go, and that is to hit the streets of Manila – especially around Luneta, an urban park alongside Manila Bay.
As Crewtoo was in Manila for Lloyd’s List Events’ Manning and Training conference, that is exactly what we did. Armed with a stack of Crewtoo t-shirts and the results of our recent wages and welfare survey, I headed downtown to meet seafarers, to hear their tales, and to learn all about the realities (both good and bad) of life at sea today.
Luneta has been through many changes over the years, first appreciated as a quiet, tree-lined, sun dappled park area and gradually becoming well-known as Manila’s home for seafarers and a place for finding their next ship. Over decades, Luneta became the place for former shipmates to meet and for crews to embark on new jobs, with new companies. There were even accommodations for those seafarers from the provinces outside Metro Manila to stay. It was a home away from home, a recruitment hub, a place alive with tales of the sea and of new opportunities.
Then came an initiative to tidy up Luneta, with the thought that pieces of paper and posters were not the way for modern seafarers to find employment. Back in 2010, all manning agencies occupying booths at the park were ordered to stop their recruitment activities or face sanctions. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) wanted the area cleaned up and sanitised. Away would go the dubious practices and those working for dodgy owners, but alas too would die the mêlée and excitement of so many seafarers exchanging stories, greeting each other like brothers, and finding their next adventure.
It has been a few years since the ban on recruitment, and now only “officially” sanctioned booths exist. There is a slight sense of disenchantment which still pervades. The place which saw such a hubbub, with thousands of seafarers all finding jobs, is now a more sedate place of chatter and education.
Despite the changes, the area is still popular and thanks to Anfred C. Yulo, administrator of the Luneta Seafarers’ Centre, I was shown around and was greeted by eager seafarers all keen to meet someone from Crewtoo and to get their own t-shirt. Crewtoo, an online seafarers network and part of KVH Media Group, has grown to be an important part of many seafarers’ lives, and many were keen to explain how using it makes them feel connected to family, friends, and former shipmates even when they are away. Crewtoo even provides a link to jobs for many seafarers, and while no website could replace the bustle of a magical place like Luneta, it can give people the tools they need to exchange stories, contacts and photos, and to find the jobs they want and the training they need.
I have visited Manila many times, and am always taken aback by the sheer enthusiasm and the passion for shipping and seafaring. Meeting so many smiling seafarers in their spiritual home of Luneta Park was a magical experience. Being able to share stories and hand over gifts was a real buzz.
Whether in Manila, Mumbai, Liverpool, or Oslo, shipping is a unifier of people. From managers ashore to the greenest cadet about to head to sea, there remains a friendly passion for the job, the industry, and for the change that ships make to the world. Today, 90% of everything travels by sea, and 100% of the people that make it possible should be recognised, rewarded, and applauded.
Our small gesture of t-shirts wasn’t much, but it made the seafarers smile, and the time I spent with them wasn’t long, but it made me smile. I look forward to keeping in touch with them through Crewtoo, and for further improving the services which make such a difference to their lives.