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A pioneer’s voyage: How Captain Remigio Zamora navigated uncharted territories

He effortlessly stands out in a sea of faces. His stance commands respect, whether he is in a suit or in his iconic barong. Soft-spoken, but his words resonate with the wisdom that come from a lifetime of experience. Captain Remigio Zamora, Loy to many, is a pioneer among the Odfjell Filipino crew and an anchor to the company’s strong presence in the Philippines. Now, he wraps up an extraordinary career and proudly passes the reins to the next generation.

Captain Remigio Zamora at Odfjell's Manila office

Embarking on humble beginnings

It was 1985 – a time of tumultuous seas in both the shipping industry and the Philippine political landscape. Even as a graduate of the illustrious Philippine Merchant Marine Academy, Zamora still found himself desperately seeking an opportunity to set sail in his career. Month after month, he knocked on the doors of various institutions, hoping for a chance to step aboard. Until that fateful day in November.

Odfjell, through Atlas Shipping and their local manning agency Magsaysay, was then seeking Filipino seafarers for four of their vessels. On the day of their mass interview, the scheduled applicants happened to be attending a tanker course, as seafarers hardly had chemical tanker experience at the time. Zamora was at the Magsaysay office that day, trying his luck as he had done for months. He was approached by the hiring manager, and was offered an interview. Drawing on his prior cadet experience, Zamora landed a job the very same day, unaware that he was embarking on a historic journey.

The persistence chronicles

Zamora left Manila on December 7, 1985 to join the chemical tanker Bow Sun in Rotterdam. He was among the first Filipino seafarers to board an Odfjell vessel; most of them, however, did not have chemical tanker experience. This lack of experience, coupled with cultural differences between Norwegian and Filipinos, made Zamora’s first months at sea a baptism by fire.

“I introduced myself to the Captain right at the beginning, and asked if I could study at the bridge during my free time. He responded with a very firm no,” Zamora recounted with a smile.

The rejection pushed cadet Zamora to work harder. He used his previous cadet training to impress the Second Officer and gain his favor. He was eventually granted access to the bridge during the late-night watch from midnight to 4 AM. These solitary hours became his sanctuary – he studied, he practiced, he trained.

During his official duty in the morning, he tagged along the Norwegian pumpman who became his mentor. He soaked up as much information as he could and devoted his time and attention to learning until he knew everything there was to know about cargo and deck operations. His hard work paid off when he was given the opportunity to steer during a Panama Canal transit. He performed such an excellent job that the pilot commended him.

Buoyed by this success, Zamora asked to be the ship's watchman. He was stationed as a lookout at the wings.

"I still wasn’t officially allowed on the bridge then, so I did my job at the ship’s wings. But I think the officers saw my dedication. Even if they saw me studying at the bridge, they never asked me to leave. They just let me do my thing.”

Turning the tide

Zamora’s most memorable moment as a seafarer was when he was promoted to Third Officer – which indeed was a significant achievement given the circumstances at the time.

The Chief Officer and the Second Officer on board got into an argument, which resulted in the Second Officer quitting the ship and returning home.

“The Chief Officer told me to go to the Captain after my duty. So I went to his office. I was at his door when he asked me, ‘Zamora, one question: Do you want to be a Third Mate?’ I replied, ‘Yes, Sir.’ He simply responded, ‘You’re a Third Mate now.’”

“I had a very good training even if I was literally stealing the time for it. I think it also helped that I was not initially allowed to study at the bridge. Because when the officers caught me, what they saw was my perseverance. That’s probably the reason why they didn’t kick me out. They appreciated my hard work and perseverance and in the end, they were the ones who recommended me as Third Mate.”

Zamora continued to work and study like each day held no end. He learned everything he needed to know and trained in all aspects of the job. His contracts spanned a minimum of 12 months, with one instance where he spent an astounding 20 consecutive months at sea. His two-month vacations were dedicated to further studies and preparations for the next higher license. Just a decade after completing his maritime education, he earned the prestigious title of Captain.

While he reached this milestone at a different company, his absence from Odfjell would prove to be a brief interlude, and soon he was back to continue his career with Odfjell in the Philippines.

Navigating the new millennium

The year 2000 unfurled a new chapter for Zamora. A day before boarding what would be his last turn as a Captain, he received a call from the President of Magsaysay, offering him a job at the office. Odfjell was then consolidating all its vessels under Magsaysay, and Zamora was one of only two who qualified for the position.

After persistent calls from the Magsaysay management and a voyage, Zamora heeded to the call. While under Magsaysay, he worked as an all-around crewing personnel, adeptly managing all aspects of crewing operations. It was reminiscent of his days as a cadet on board: He would start his day early in the morning, often stretching well past midnight, and on occasion, deep into the early hours.

Twenty-three years later, the one-man crewing department in a six-person office has turned into a two-company organization comprised of more than 70 employees. Captain Remigio Zamora is the President of one of these two companies – the manning agency arm, Odfjell Philippines, Inc (OPI). Odfjell now has its own identity in the local maritime industry, known for being the home of high-caliber chemical tanker mariners.

Cultivating a seafaring heritage

Four years into his office job, Zamora initiated the development of an Odfjell Cadetship program. He ran the program single-handedly, from recruiting the cadets to managing them until they became full-fledged Odfjell seafarers.

“It was like raising my own children. I empower them to forge their own paths, yet they know that they can come to me for any support. I am happy and proud of them when they do well; I get sad if something untoward happens to them. They know that, as do their parents with whom I also have a good relationship.”

Since its inception in 2004, the Cadetship program has supported hundreds of students aspiring for a maritime career. The early batch of cadets now comprise most shipboard management teams on board, with their successors following in their footsteps. Zamora considers this his legacy.

“We now have an established pool of future Odfjell leaders, as we have a pool of loyal crewmembers to help run our vessels. We have welcomed female seafarers onboard our vessels, which was unimaginable during my time. We have also reduced silos and have improved the relationship between the shore staff and the seafarers,” Zamora expresses with pride.

Zamora joined Recruitment Coordinator Kim Galura, VP - Head of Crewing Agnes Enesio and VP Maritime Personnel Svend Foyn-Bruun in attending the graduation rites of the 25th batch of Odfjell cadets last January.

From sea to soil

When the pandemic struck and the office staff were compelled to transition to remote work, Loy took the opportunity to lay the groundwork for the next phase of his life.

At a nearby lot, he started the construction of a farmhouse that also serves as their family home. He planted fruit-bearing trees and took in chickens and ducks that now roam the land.

While Loy eagerly anticipates realizing his farmer dreams, he is equally excited about dedicating more of his time to church work and charitable endeavors. A devout Catholic, he has spent decades serving at his church.

Above all, Loy is most excited to spend more time with his wife and the rest of his family. He is looking forward to lazy days at the farm with his wife, hosting his children at the family home, and watching his grandchildren play.

“My wife and I started our life together in 1980; by then, I was already in school. After graduation and while looking for a seafaring job, I took another job and clocked in overtime whenever possible. As a seafarer, I was away most of the time, and my vacations were spent preparing for the next contract.

When I took a job ashore, I continued to work long hours, especially when I was starting out. And until the pandemic, I spent more than 12 hours every weekday out of the house, from my drive to the office until the drive back home. So, my priority now is to spend more time with my family. Then work at the farm, and of course, service and charity.”


A farewell across the horizon

As the custodian of the cadetship program and the face of OPI, Zamora has guided countless careers.

“I will definitely miss the people—the colleagues ashore and, of course, the seafarers. It's going to be a significant adjustment not having colleagues knocking on my door, not engaging in conversations with seafarers on my way to a meeting, or while grabbing a cup of coffee. These colleagues have become part of my life so I will remain just a phone call away," Zamora shares.

He will also miss the routine that he had for over 20 years: Waking up at 4 in the morning, leaving the house 30 minutes later to beat the morning traffic, and arriving at the office before 6 AM. He has slowly distanced himself from this routine and from the office to ensure a seamless transition.

When Zamora began working for Odfjell in Manila, there were less than ten employees. After 20 years, he leaves behind a thriving organization of over 70 employees. Here, also in company with Chair Laurence Odfjell and VP Maritime Personnel Svend Foyn-Bruun.

Zamora entrusts an institution he helped build from the ground to his second-in-command at OPI, the current VP – Head of Crewing whom he also trained, Agnes Enesio.

“I am confident that Agnes will do a good job. She has been by my side for a long time so I know that she is fully capable of taking the helm. I am also confident that she will not only carry forward my initiatives but also elevate OPI to new heights.”

To his colleagues, Zamora imparts a message steeped in his journey's essence – focus, sense of ownership, and loyalty – the very same qualities that he himself displayed throughout his years of service.

“Focus on your job so you can do it well. Have a sense of ownership so you will protect your job, protect your colleagues, and protect the company. And be loyal – being loyal makes you committed.”

As Captain Zamora charts a new course into life ashore, his legacy remains cast in the walls of Odfjell in the Philippines – a heart that beats for service and a spirit that soars with ambition. Salute, Captain!

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