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Of pirates and profits

Welcome to busy Manila Bay, where sailors haggle and commercial ships find their crews.

MANILA — Miguel Jacob is a fixture on TM Kalaw Street.

His neon green folder held aloft, he weaves through the men gathered near Manila Bay, not saying a word unless someone checks out the words and numbers on the paper he thrusts in their face.

When that happens, Jacob launches into a spiel designed to convince his audience to ship out to sea with his company. One can always tell a negotiation is taking place the moment Jacob hunches over and begins speaking in a low voice.

Jacob, 25, is a recruiter for MichaelMar Philippines, an agency that places Filipino sailors on the container ships and bulk carriers that ply the world's shipping routes. He and several others like him are denizens of a veritable sailors' market along TM Kalaw Street, near what used to be Manila's prostitution strip.

Here, sailors — nearly a thousand on most days — find jobs, haggle for the best salaries, commune with their colleagues and exchange gossip about the various recruitment agencies.

For young sailors like Jacob who dream of the sea, the market is their first destination. Although so-called manning agencies are still a popular choice, the sailors' market offers more opportunities for Filipino sailors, who man the most ships worldwide. The agencies run dozens of the booths at the market, where competition often leads them to offer higher salaries.

Like a flea market, the sailors' market doesn't have anyone actually running it. The government permits the use of the sidewalk and a portion of a public park and a non-governmental group comprised of sailors maintains an office nearby. The group offers assistance, including free lodging, chilled water and wi-fi connections, to the sailors who endure the heat and smog to linger at the market all day.

The sailors and recruiters here are constantly negotiating. Those who are waiting to hear about applications or who simply have time on their hands can play chess, protected from the searing sun by the tall mahogany and mango trees and makeshift tents.