Exec gets baptism of fire in manning industry
BY YASHIKA F. TORIB
The Manila Times
Maritime And Logistics
NACONIEL “Niel” de la Torre is among the rare type of executives in the local manning industry. Unlike his contemporaries, de la Torre moved up the presidency of one of the oldest and most established manning companies in the Philippines sans the conventional qualifications — an extensive experience on the high seas or, at least, a “backer” who is a veteran in the industry. “This was my first maritime experience, and it was a challenge, a whole new world,” de la Torre said in reference to his current post with Singa Ship Management Philippines Inc. (Singa Ship), a 35-year-old Norwegian-owned manning agency that deploys Filipino seafarers for cruise and commercial vessels. The young executive has been a banker for local and international banks for 24 years before he applied as chief finance officer of Singa Ship back in December 2019. A few months later, the pandemic happened. “It was like a baptism of fire. I was still learning the ropes of the industry when I found myself with a weighty responsibility — I had to keep the company financially afloat amid Covid-19,” de la Torre recalled. He then embarked on a journey that even the best and most experienced maritime executives found complicated. de la Torre took the crew change crisis head-on and worked alongside other local manning agencies and the government in the safe and speedy deployment and repatriation of Filipino crew. Under his command, Singa Ship did not retrench any of its staff nor implement any benefit and pay cuts at the height of the pandemic. The company was able to increase the number of its deployed crew this year by 20 percent. “The presidency was not something I aimed for. As far as the industry is concerned, I am young. I’m only 44. And while it came as a surprise for some, for me even, the ascendancy felt more like a seal of approval, a point of trust from our principals when they saw what we did,” he said. De la Torre was warmly received by his colleagues, especially the company’s principals he has been working with closely. “We were getting good comments and reviews from them. They probably observed our team’s efficiency in keeping up our recruitment and communications line in Manila and Cebu and helping bridge the gap between sea and shore-based staff. I believe my promotion is a reflection of what our team accomplished for the past years,” he added. At the helm of Singa Ship, de la Torre continues to cultivate the company through the eyes of someone who fully respects the industry and its seafarers. “I do not see seafarers as a mere figure or number in the supply chain. I see them from the point of empathy, to understand where they are coming from. I enjoy listening to their stories and I make it a point to engage with them. I am engrossed by their stories of life and the sea,” he shared. The communal efforts of Singa Ship Management staff to personally attend to the professional, personal, and financial welfare of their seafarers gained a positive impact as the company is now enjoying a level of operations that is larger than its pre-pandemic status. 80 percent of its vessels are also now fully manned by Filipino seafarers. “More than just the numbers, we are looking at this growth as an affirmation of the families we can help, of the opportunities given to a single seafarer that is multiplied to many others and presenting to the world a testament of how talented Filipino seamen are.” De la Torre said this is what anchors his mission with Singa Ship Management, to help empower Filipino seafarers and their families. “It is knowing that we are doing something right and we are touching lives in the process.” Outside of work and without his titles, de la Torre sees himself as a regular guy who likes watching movies, traveling and trying out different restaurants with his wife. “I am a frustrated basketball coach, but I have coached before for several teams. My height will not allow me to play, however,” he quipped. He also shared in length his fondness for his 5-year-old son. “I am a late bloomer family wise. It can be a challenge sometimes, but my wife and I are enjoying the journey with our son,” he concluded.