I was reappointed at the General Meeting of the International Mariners Management Association of Japan (IMMAJ) in July 2020, and this is my fourth year as Chairman.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been severely impacting the economy and many other areas across the world, and our activities are no exception. Amid the emergency, however, the policies for our activities remain unchanged. That is, to improve foreign seafarers’ working conditions through the IBF Negotiations between unions and employers, which will help in supplying Members with quality crew. We would also like to contribute to the safe operation of the Japanese merchant fleet by providing various seafarer training based on shipowners’ needs, and by offering welfare benefits to seafarers according to their needs.

Looking at specific activities, the IBF Central Negotiations, initially scheduled for early March this year, have been rescheduled for some time in spring next year. The current IBF Agreement covers four years starting 2019, and at the next Negotiations, the wage elements for the latter half of the four-year term (i.e., 2021 and 2022) will be reviewed.

Another pillar of our activities, the provision of diverse training to foreign seafarers, has been put on hold. The new training center, opened in March in Manila, also stopped delivering training after a brief period of operation, due to regulations implemented by the Philippine government as COVID-19 countermeasures. The planned opening ceremony and various training activities will be held once COVID-19 regulations are eased.

The Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP), a Philippine maritime education institution which trains cadets for member companies, also had their curriculum affected by Covid-19 restrictions, but the new semester is finally set to begin in August. Shipboard training on their new training ship “Kapitan Gregorio Oca”, started in April 2019, was discontinued for a while, but resumed in July.

The biggest impact of COVID-19 on the shipping industry is crew change. Due to regulations imposed in each country, changeover of crews has become extremely difficult. A great number of seafarers continue working onboard for periods far beyond their contracts. This is not only a serious humanitarian issue but also could hinder the safe operation of ships.

IMMAJ has been focusing on facilitating replacements of Filipino seafarers, who account for over 70 percent of foreign seafarers serving on the Japanese merchant fleet. In cooperation with the Japanese Shipowners’ Association (JSA) and our associated Philippine industry group the Philippine-Japan Manning Consultative Council (PJMCC), we directly approached the Philippine government, and arranged two chartered flights from Japan to the Philippines in late July with the agreement of related Unions in Japan and the Philippines. We have also requested the waiver or reduction of port dues for ships deviating to Filipino seaports for crew change.

Although the situation remains challenging, with no prospect of the pandemic being controlled any time soon, we will continue to respond to the Members’ needs flexibly and speedily with the motto of “transparency and fairness”.

Thank you for your continued cooperation and support.

IMMAJ Chairman Koichi Akamine