Radioactive

Former radio officer Capt. Celso de Guzman of MARITAS looked forward to make sure other Filipino seafarers with his background and training would stay relevant and employed.

Originally published by Seafarer Asia Innovation and Performance on August 2016

Since the breakthrough invention of the radio at the end of the 19th century, ships have relied heavily on Morse code to send and receive distress signals. These messages, sent via amateur radio bands, saved thousands of lives at sea. Skilled marine radio officers flourished and played vital roles until their careers were threatened—first by commercialized satellite communications in the 1980s and later, by satellite and better technologies, which spelled their ultimate doom.

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Radio Officer Celso De Guzman Sr.

Veteran radio officer Capt. Celso de Guzman, Sr. was among those radio operators who faced this setback. “I was working onboard when the communication systems started changing from Morse code to GMDSS,” shares De Guzman. Developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the GMDSS or Global Maritime Distress and Safety System is an internationally applied set of procedures, types of equipment, and communication protocol system with satellite and digital selective calling technology. Its components includes EPIRB (Emergency Position Including Radio Beacon), Navtex (Navigation Telex) that automatically prints MSIs (Maritime Safety Information), the Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite) system, and many others.

According to Capt. de Guzman, he knew that the adaption of digital communications through satellite technology would raise a red flag for radio officers and signal the end of their career onboard. “Radio operators would soon become irrelevant—a lot would lose their jobs, and most of these seafarers had no idea that the new communication system was coming,” he says, adding that seafarers weren’t required to take GMDSS training until the STCW 1995 (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) took place. The process was also only globally implemented on February 1999, roughly two decades after it was introduced.

It was exactly for this reason that Capt. de Guzman flew to Malmo, Sweden to attend a two-month GMDSS course at the World Maritime University, a postgraduate maritime university founded by the IMO. With a GMDSS certificate in hand, he flew back to Manila in 1981 with the vision of sharing his newfound knowledge to other seafarers.

Leading the way

After coming back to the country, Capt. de Guzman opened a small training center to

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Vintage radio operation equipments, Nippon Maru | Yokohama, Jp 2016

teach CMDSS. Back then, there were no government agencies regulating such trainings. “There wasn’t even 6.09—an IMO model course designed to facilitate the delivery of training in the competence standards required in STCW 1995—that we were required to teach,” the captain recalls.

Although not compulsory at that time, Capt. de Guzman notes that most crewing agencies preferred officers with such certification. The rising demand for GMDSS-ready officers led him to establish the Maritime Technological and Allied Services, Inc. (MARITAS) in August 18, 1987.

“I started out being futuristic. Before the GMDSS training became a requirement, I put up the center because I wanted seafarers to learn about this new system onboard. Somebody needed to show them the ropes,” shares the former radio operator in Filipino.

He adds that it was never just a business ventures but a manifestation of his vision to help the maritime industry thrive and swiftly adopt to change.

After GMDSS training became mandatory in 1995, training centers mushroomed. Capt. de Guzman takes pride in the MARITAS pioneered it in the country. “Nakita nilang booming ang GMDSS training for business kaya nagtayo narin sila pero ako rin ang nagturo sa mga instructors nila (They saw the GMDSS training business boom, so they put up similar centers. But I was still the one who taught their instructors),” he says good-naturedly.

With the STCW code and its amendments taking effect, more training courses emerged, including MARPOL for marine pollution, ECDIS, SDSD for ship security, and many more. Capt. de Guzman, who also became the first president of the Philippine Association of Maritime Training Center, Inc., continues to ensure MARITAS complies with international training standards, particularly the transition from the STCW 1978 convention—dubbed the knowledge-based convention—to the competency-based STCW 1995 convention. Now on its 29th year, MARITAS remains steadfast in providing training to Filipino seafarers, offering a total of 18 courses at very affordable rates.

A commitment to STOP

Its continued objective for seafarers to comply with training requirements at the least possible cost eventually saw MARITAS launch its Seaman Tipid Offer Program (STOP). This reiterates Capt. de Guzman’s vision in creating a training center that actually helps seafarers instead of being a mere for-profit venture.

MARITAS offers its training programs at 20 to 50 percent less than what other training centers charge. According to Capt. de Guzman, it took years of hard work before MARITAS finally recovered with STOP, which slashed a big chunk off their earnings. He credits the commendable support of his friends and colleagues from the Conference of Maritime Agencies led by Capt. Rodolfo Estampador, who continues endorsing the training center.

Now retired, Capt. de Guzman recognizes that MARITAS has reached its peak. What is left to be done is to continue its decades-long commitment to help seafarers. He observes that some trainings are already redundant and the industry is reaching its saturation point. “Napakarami na ng training centers ngayon at hindi na tayo ganoon kalakas and ating crewing business sa ibang bansa (There are so many training centers now and our crewing business is no longer as strong as other countries). Time will come and we will experience oversupply, and I think this includes officers because even now a lot of officers are finding it hard to go onboard,” he adds in Filipino.

According to the Captain, the manning industry is transforming. Gone are the days when an officer’s every whim and demand were seen to by his manning agency. “Dati may akay-akay po ang iba na pamangkin, pero iba na ang panahon ngayon (There were even officers who’d bring in their nephews, but times have changed),” he says.

Currently, only a small number of manning companies, mostly of cruise lines, still employ radio officers onboard. With technology rapidly advancing and bringing to the forefront remote-controlled shipping and unmanned vessels, the job security of the 400,000 Filipino seafarers could face a new threat. Luckily, there may emerge someone like Capt. Celso de Guzman who is always one step ahead and has a plan.IMG_2372.JPG

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