For the past decades, Filipino seafarers have been in high demand – constituting almost 40% of all crews worldwide – because they speak good English and come cheap. “They know the money they pay us is not enough for what we do,” the 2nd mate tells me as he plots a navigational path on a map, “but they also know that we accept it because in the Philippines, our salaries are better than most of our countrymen.” The Filipinos on the ship have accordingly painted a picture of their cities and towns choked with maritime institutes and training centers, offering the promise of high salaries and the thrill of seafaring life. Men line up for days at a time at crewing booths hoping to get a job, playing the waiting game, and taking one entrance exam after the other in the hopes of getting selected. The ones who’ve made it on the ship count themselves lucky.

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But today, even Filipino labor has come under threat: NSB has established maritime schools in Sri Lanka and Shanghai where labor comes even cheaper, and other companies have been following suit. Like all other industries, shipping moves on roller skates around the world, seeking lower and lower capital outlays as they experiment with bringing circulation time as close to zero as possible. Quite different from other attempted spatial fixes for crises of profitability, however, the geographical relocation of maritime labor pools does not require heavy fixed capital outlays from investment in costly and immobile infrastructure and machinery. Schools and training centers can be set up (and moved) at relatively small costs, with large payoffs in the availability of cheap maritime labor they churn out.