Filipino STCW

The Philippines appears to be looking for a longer-term solution to certification problems, which could involve a global response via the IMO, writes Andrew Spurrier

Safety at Sea July 2014

The European Union's recent decision not to vote immediately for derecognition of the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) certification of Filipino seafarers was not as element as it first appeared.

Member states have decided to grant the Philippines more time to rectify deficiencies in its seafarer training programme but have warned that, in the absence of rapid results, they are still ready to derecognise SCTW certification of Filipino seafarers.

In fact, member states participating in a meeting of the EU Committee on Safe Seas (COSS) on 23 April declined to lift the threat of derecognition that has been hanging over Filipino seafarers for the past three years. Rather, they granted a stay of execution, and a short one at that.

According to a press release issued by its Manila bureau, the EU has given the Philippine authorities umil the end of July to demonstrate they have rectified deficiencies still outstanding in the country's seafarer training system and thus brought themselves into fuli compliance with the re¹uirements of the STCW Convention.

In particular, the EU said, the authorities would need to demonstrate that plans to audit the training system were actually being carried out and that there were sufficient ¹ualified personnel to monitor the country's maritime education and training institutions. "Failure to resolve any remaining issue may result in the loss of EU recognition," it warned.

Curiously, however, the release also announced that a new inspection of the Filipino seafarer training system would be carried out In October, which seems to suggest that no derecognition derision is likely to be taken until the European Maritime Safety Agency has written its report on that inspection.

Taking account of the genera³ speed of EU decision-making machinery, this would seem to preclude any further decision on the derecognition issue until about this time next year, by which time a new European Commission and new European Parliament, perhaps with different approaches to the question, will have been installed following May's European Parliament elections.

At the same time, in its press release, the EU seemed to want to point the Philippines authorities to another possible way out of the current situation, inviting them to consider bringing the issue to the attention of the International Maritime Organization and to seek further technical assistance from the international community.

This would correspond with indications given by European Commission ofncials to IHS Maritime recently, that they considered

there was a case for a globat, rather than European, approach to the problem. One offlcial said the commission would like to see the issue come before the IMO maritime safety committee in October.

The commission appears to be in two minds on the issue. On the one hand, officials recognise that the Philippincs nas made "remarkable" effbrts to address the problems raised by the EU. On the other, they say the question of compliance with the STCW Convention is "technical" and, therefore "not politicatly negotiable". In other words, the EU is bound by its own legislation to ensure that the terms of the convention are respected.

The European Community Shipowners' Associations (ECSA), which warned the commission of thc dangers for the EU shipping sector of derecognising the certification of Filipino seafarers, recalled after the COSS decision that there were 15,000 Filipino masters and officers currently working on vessels registered in the EU.

Regarding the still-impending threat of derecognition, it preferred to take the view that everything would probably come out right in the end, arguing that the Philippines' maritime administration had already gone through a "paradigm shift" over the past two years.

ECSA secretary-general Patrick Verhoeven said: "We are conftdent that the authorities [in the Philippines] will do everything possible to ensure fuli implementation of the positive measures enacted."

ECSA itself would continue to play the role of' honest broker' between the Philippines administration and the European Commission, he said, even providing technical assistance to the Philippines in co-operation with EU member states.

"Together, we are undertaking all efforts to safeguard the EU recognition of the Philippines under the STCW Convention," he said. o