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Pleasant Team Players

People from almost a dozen countries work on board ships owned by Hapag-Lloyd. On of the largest groups of them comes from Southeast Asia: The Filipino seafarers.

As seamen, it’s their job to keep the ship in good shape and to assist the engineers in the engine room. As bosuns, they give directions to the crew. And the officers among them steer the giant containerships during their watches. These are the Filipino seafarers on board Hapag-Lloyd ships. The men and women who work for Hapag-Lloyd at sea come from many nations. On of the biggest group of them on board the company’s own ships comes from Southeast Asia.

It isn’t just at Hapag-Lloyd that Filipinos make up a major portion of crews. Estimates put the number of men and women from the Southeast Asian island state who are working in the global shipping industry at nearly half a million, making the Philippines the world’s largest seafaring nation. In fact, the 25,000 seamen and - women from the archipelago working on German commercial and passenger vessels account for roughly a third of all crew members.  

“Friendly, pleasant and hardworking": this is what you hear about the crew members from the Philippines.

If you ask around on board a ship about crew members from the Philippines, you’re likely to hear positive evaluations describing them with terms such as “friendly,” “pleasant” and “hardworking.” Of course, these descriptions are just generalizations and, in that sense, no more reliable than the various explanations given for why Filipinos, in particular, go to sea so often. For example, some say it’s because, unlike most other Asian countries, the Philippines enjoys strong ties to the Western world because it was ruled by the Spanish and has been heavily influenced by the United States. Others argue that most Filipinos are Catholic, and that many of them already start learning English as young children. Still others note that, like perhaps only a handful of nations, the country is characterized by a culture that views it as normal to earn one’s living working abroad. Such explanations might not be ultimately convincing. But one thing is certain: The Filipinos working on board ships in Hapag-Lloyd’s fleet make up not only a large, but also a very important part of the crews.

Filipinos have been working at Hapag-Lloyd for several years. Both sides quickly learned how to deal with new cultures and mentalities. Such learning was helped by intensive training courses and extensive informational material – for both new and existing crew members. And whether it is with Christmas carols sung in Tagalog, the most commonly spoken language on the island nation other than English, or with (of course) karaoke, having Filipinos on board has made life on the ships a bit more international.

Thousands of seamen and - women from the archipelago working on German commercial and passenger vessels account for roughly a third of all crew members.

Filipino crew members usually remain on the ships longer than European officers. A single assignment lasts about six to eight months, which is equal to about two or three round trips in a liner service. Bosun Artur Tugonon Jr., for example, is currently sailing on a Hapag-Lloyd vessel for already his fourth time. On board, he serves as a kind of foreman for the crew and is responsible for a range of things, including safety. In addition, he assigns task to the various crew members. “I wanted to see the world; that’s what drove me,” Tugonon says. “And I have to say that I’ve succeeded.” He hopes to go to sea for five to eight more years before returning to the Philippines for good, to the island of Leyte.

Before taking their first assignments, crew members like him have to complete a basic training course in their home country. After that, Hapag-Lloyd takes care of additional training. Beginners – and especially those that are only 20 years old – usually start their careers as “ordinary seamen” before becoming “able seamen” and later even bosuns. However, Hapag-Lloyd also has a special cadet program in which it develops young navigators, technicians and electricians, who are supposed to work as officers on board after a training period lasting two and a half years.

At only 26 years old, Arnold Sangabol Pestano is one of the younger people on board. He has already been going to sea for five years. The seaman keeps watch on the bridge from 8 p.m. until midnight as well as from 8 a.m. to noon. During the rest of his working hours, he takes care of all sorts of maintenance and repair jobs on board, such as painting and cleaning. “I hope to be a chief mate one day and maybe even a captain,” he says with confidence.

Arnold Sangabol Pestano (26) hope that he will be a chief mate and maybe even a captain on day.

On the other hand, Geraldo Malbas is already an old hand on board. “I’ve been going to sea for 26 years, just like all of my brothers. I was 22 years old on my first journey,” recalls the second officer, who has sole responsibility for navigating the ship during his watch on the bridge. “However, if there are problems or particularly demanding situations, it’s also my job to inform the captain.” Malbas’ main reason for working as a seaman is his family and, in particular, his daughter, as he’d like to make it possible for her to live abroad. For this reason, during his time off work, it’s also especially important for him to be in contact with his family as much as possible, such as via Facebook.

And there’s something else that’s important if you’re at sea for weeks on end, like the crew of a containership: the food. “A good cook doesn’t just fill up the crew; he also makes them a bit happy,” cook Wilbert Young says in a sure voice. He prepares breakfast every morning, and later lunch and dinner. Between meals, Wilbert has longer breaks in the morning and afternoon, and he only gets off work around 7 p.m. On top of that, he does all the food- and meal-related planning. For example, for a round trip from Northern Europe to Asia and back, his plans call for 2,800 eggs, 120 kilograms of potatoes and 400 kilograms of jasmine rice.

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