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Thome Ship Management expands in the Philippines

ON the cusp of a global seafarer shortage, Singapore-based tanker management specialist Thome Ship Management has expanded its presence in the Philippines, with a new state-of-the-art training centre to help ensure the future supply of qualified crew.

Thome and its 19-year-old Philippine-based associate TSM Group of Companies, unveiled their new US$2 million training centre and regional headquarters in Makati this week. The TSM Maritime Centre will be home to the group's various manning activities.

The centre boasts a state-of-the art bridge simulator and other facilities that will position it as one of the key manning and training centres in the Philippines - the world's largest source country for seafarers - providing training for more than 4,500 Filipino seafarers employed by the group.

Speaking at the opening of the centre, Thome and TSM Group chairman Olav Eek Thorstensen said that the expansion and upgrading of existing facilities underscores the importance the TSM Group places on the Philippine maritime sector. Remittances from the group's Filipino seafarers totalled US$64 million, or US$5 million a month in 2006, a figure that is projected to reach US$6 million a month this year.

'This is money sent back to families at home from the more than 3,000 seafarers we have at sea on our ships at any one time,' he said.

Mr Thorstensen, whose Thome Ship Management celebrated 30 years of operations in Singapore last year, said that the total investment and future commitment of the group and its partners will place them among the largest maritime-related foreign investors in the Philippines.

Speaking to BT at the opening, Mr Thorstensen emphasised that the group will remain headquartered in Singapore, but said that to grow locally it must rely on external growth.

'We are a Singapore-based company, but to grow in Singapore we need to grow outside Singapore because we need to have support services, especially when it involves manning,' he said.

'Today you cannot base Singapore's maritime future on Singapore seafarers because everything would collapse' - a reference to the fact that seafarering is no longer a profession of choice among young Singaporeans as it once was.

He also noted that rising costs in Singapore have necessitated shifting some support services out of the Republic, which for Thome include its accounting and planned maintenance systems divisions.

The expanded facilities, however, are squarely aimed at offsetting the impending shortage of qualified seafarers, according to Mr Thorstensen.

'The fact is that there will be a general shortage in the future, but to secure the officers and crew for the future you have to do something now and that is what we are trying to do here,' he said.

Providing a professional and quality training environment is crucial in attracting potential seafarers, said Mr Thorstensen.

But other issues like team-building and benefits for family members are equally important.

'If you don't offer them something extra, for a bit of extra money they will go to the next company, so you try to build a relationship and also consider their families', such as the TSM Group's extending of medical benefits to their family members, he said.

'This is the way to prepare for the shortage and overcome it for the future.'

The TSM group is also looking to expand outside the Philippine capital to places like Cebu so it can boost its intake of Filipino seafarers.

Thome has recently expanded into the offshore sector and is working on securing several floating production, storage, offloading (FPSO) vessel projects that will need qualified officers and crew.

The intention, according to Mr Thorstensen, is to source crew from the Philippines as well as expertise from Europe because of the specialised nature of FPSO operations.

The group plans to also tap the offshore supply and support vessel market and, if opportunities arise, move into rig management.

The new Makati office will also begin full management services for its managed bulk carriers by the end of the year.

Also housed at the facility are the operations of Jo Tankers Philippines, TSM Shipping and MST Marine Services, as well as the dedicated offices of Norwegian shipping companies Norden and Utkilen.