PTC CEO Gerardo Borromeo Conveys Optimism for the Shipping Industry in the Face of Challenges Posed by the COVID-19 Pandemic

The shipping industry will remain resilient. This is the sentiment PTC CEO Gerardo Borromeo shared as he spoke with ANC News last June 5 to give the outlook for both the cruise and cargo sectors of the industry after it reels from the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the Philippines as the prime source of competent and highly certified maritime professionals who move this industry and contribute significantly to the country’s annual remittance, the state of the shipping industry holds far-reaching effects on our country’s economy.

“The cruise industry is a resilient industry and it is, in fact, going to come back. Already today there are plans for cruises to begin again at the end of this year into the first quarter of next year. We may have hit a speed bump, but the industry will remain alive,” he said.

“As for the cargo sector, it continues to operate despite the perceived slowdown of trade,” he adds. “While about 10-12% of container vessels, which make up a big part of global trade, is idle at any given time, this does not necessarily mean a lack of business. Some are just in ports and yards being retrofitted and prepared for the next phase of their voyage. A majority of ships still continue to operate which is reflective of the industry’s resiliency despite the pandemic we are facing.”

This resilience is thanks in huge part to the 300,000 Filipinos who make up about 25% of all the maritime professionals on board cargo ships, serving as the backbone of the global supply chain.

“Without the merchant vessels, world trade would not be possible,” explains Borromeo. “They do all of the heavy lifting. And as a country, we can be proud of the fact that Filipinos contribute a significant portion to the working positions onboard a ship. Without Filipinos, these ships won’t be able to sail.”

To further illustrate the importance of Filipinos in the industry, Borromeo paints a picture of an alternate scenario in which, if for some reason Filipinos suddenly decide not to sail, the merchant fleet will be severely affected, and world trade will virtually be put to a halt.

“Just imagine, one VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) goes through the West Philippine Sea towards Japan, China, and Korea every hour. If these ships stop because no one would man them, imagine what would happen to the whole energy platform of those countries. Imagine the effect that this will have on manufacturing and other industries. So, while the Philippines may not be a tonnage provider, we are most definitely tonnage enablers.”

The crucial role that Filipino Global Maritime Professionals (GMPs) play in world trade necessitates measures to ensure that they are able to get back to their jobs onboard despite the challenges that travel restrictions currently pose.

“While the ships continue sailing, the crew onboard have to sacrifice and stay longer than they were initially required to,” he continues. “We need to find a way to let the Filipinos who are on the ground here, waiting to take their place out on the ship, to facilitate crew changes that are necessary. That’s why we at PTC have been working very closely with the government to ensure that this is done immediately.”

And while he admits that the industry has been caught flat-footed by COVID-19, he shares that the pandemic has also taught the sector a lot of lessons including the need to know how to deal with different governments and jurisdictions, as well as, how to work with different multi-modal transport systems.

“To get a crew member on board, you need to be able to fly him from one airport to another. Today, without the commercial airlines operating, this step proves to be much more difficult.”

Borromeo emphasizes the need for a systems dynamics approach to figure out the challenges that the industry has faced. This will put in place business continuity plans to assure that people, especially GMPs, can get on board their ships at any particular time as seamlessly as possible.

The cruise industry is also looking to adopt significant changes as it resumes its operations in the coming months. These include introducing cruises that are designed not to go anywhere. “It could be a 4-day cruise that doesn’t go and dock in various ports but will still allow people to see the beauty around them, be entertained, and have an unforgettable experience with their family.”

“Cruising may also start with just one nationality at a time. For example, a vessel leaving from Marseille, France will probably cater to just the French community. Same thing for a cruise departing from Italy or the US. This way, you avoid the possibility of cross-contamination. The intention is that once we can overcome fears about cruising and that health protocols are firmly enforced; we will try to go back to a pre-COVID situation albeit with new normals in place.”

With pragmatic optimism, Borromeo acknowledges that while it is unfortunate that shipping, particularly the cruise industry, has been affected by the pandemic, the industry is united in the decision and exhaustive efforts to come back very strong.

“There may be hiccups along the way, there may be a slowdown in overall trade, but the shipping industry will remain relatively resilient. And we can be proud of our contribution to this effort because it is our people who enable these ships to make it from one point to the other. It is our Global Maritime Professionals that will ensure that global trade will continue, during and after this crucial period, and essentially move the world in more ways than one.”

To watch the whole interview, please visit this link