Confront the EMSA Bogeyman PLEASE, MR. PRESIDENT

By Marino World Editorial Pool

The maritime industry needs surgical intervention. Vital signs are challenged, with EMSA initiating the flatline — ironically, on the intention of upgrading the industry for better and competitive health.

Mr. President, you are considered the most maritime-friendly Chief Executive. During the electoral campaign, you have shown sympathy by signing a covenant in Davao City to prioritize the Movement for Maritime Philippines’ National Maritime Agenda; the only presidential bet who participated in maritime discussions in Manila with the Joint Manning Group (JMG).

You are the first President to mention maritime in your second State-of-the-Nation-Address (SONA), even if obliquely, with the Build. Build, Build infra program. Connectivity with Ro-Ro vessels and routes, port improvements are maritime within the “Golden Age of Infrastructures” you envision and take to the road.

Mr. President, now chips must be counted. Your clear and incisive intervention can save the maritime industry. True, the Marawi terrorist destruction, Eastern Visayas typhoon wreckage and Mindanao flood damages are crying priorities. Without meaning to be callous, those are major expenses. The maritime sector generates major income for the country, support families in mostly non-urban areas.

MARINA says we have 695,742 seafarers (from traditional and hospitality sectors), 17% are merchant marine officers and 35% ratings produced from MHEIs, Bridging Programs and Senior High Schools (the latter claim too premature as it has just begun).

Other estimates round off to 700,000, of these 130,000 are officers. The numbers are huge— yet, each is a person with a story to tell.

Remittances from sea-based workers total US$5,578,000,000 for 2016; US$3,344,956,000 just from January to July, 2017. The 2016 performance is 11% of the national budget. Year 2017 is trending to upward increase of remittances.

About 73,200 Filipino seafarers (officers and ratings) are on board EU flagged vessels. According to EMSA 2017 Outlook there are 28,874 Filipino seafarers holding Certificates of Competency and Endorsements attesting recognition by EU countries valid in 2014.

Management and operational level officers are in direct and fatal hit in case EMSA makes official and public that the Philippines has failed the maritime audits.

That is the crux, we are in the cross-cross of policy over action, sheen over sincerity, bureaucrats over turfs, politics over people.

The audits.

MARINA is mum on the status and range of the EMSA findings. But the earlier fast-tracking of policies and edicts, the voluminous dockets as official response of MARINA, the trips of officials to EMSA and EU officials, the disciplined silence of the agency officers, these all point out to a clear and imminent danger.

With a little sleuthing and set-up questions, Marino World and friends are able to piece together a respectable view of the puzzle.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) first audit took place in 2006, then in 2010, 2013, 2014 and finally in 2017. The standard sequence is audit every five years, unless there are unresolved concerns that must be addressed with finality.

Unimpeachable sources claim the 44-page audit report of May 2017 found 36 Non-Compliances (NC- meaning shortfalls) and nine Observations (that things could have been done better).

According to EMSA Outlook 2017 many EU registered ships are manned by seafarers who are not nationals of EU Member States. To ensure that these crew members are appropriately educated and trained, EMSA carries out inspections in the supplying countries.

EMSA staff has been inspecting for over ten years, assessing levels of compliance with the requirements of the IMO’s Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping.

EMSA also runs the STCW information system. This system contains objective and comparable information on seafarers holding EU certificates/endorsements and therefore able to work on board EU registered ships.

Main findings.

Experts think among critical shortfalls are too many changes in the MARINA management, yet there are vacancies, temporary postings and even volunteers suspect to personal interest.

Syllabus of maritime schools and training centers are not based on competency; likewise assessments are not within STCW standards.

On top of implementation problems on the mandatory Shipboard Training (SBT) for degree courses like BSMT and BSMarE, there is lack of monitoring on this 12-month sea service. A clear reason is the lack of qualified personnel to monitor and audit.

So much confidence is attributed to licensure examinations which are really not sufficient to assess nor measure competence. Spawning from this are fraudulent training certificates issued even without actual training (or incomplete attendance) but for the fees paid.

And more.

Around 3,000 fake certificates are allegedly issued at MARINA by corrupt employees. Another 3,000 blank certificates with reference numbers were stolen from MARINA, ready for use and sale by corrupt elements.

True, the STCW Office released in November a circular that stated the serial numbers with the request to report these to the Office of the Executive Director, STCW. End of story.

Like mushrooms, some 103 maritime schools spawned mostly for the business opportunity and not zeal to educate. These were reduced to 55 but some managed to reopen making the current total to 65, still much too many.

Lost ground.

Before EMSA, the Philippines was hailed Primero Uno in the world for her seafarers. After EMSA, we are reduced to Numero Dos in the supply chain (elbowed out by China). There should be no issue on the number of schools as neither EU nor IMO limit the number.

What is needed is regulatory sanity with strong political will and steadfast leadership, more so with CHEd and MARINA. As long as political patronage or MBA (May Backer Ako – I have a backer) are allowed, schools will be an endless issue. A strong, quality oriented maritime education program and policies must be adopted; let natural attrition weed out the unqualified.

The proverbial Gordian knot must be untied in the SBT program. Cadets are forced to cough out bribes (instead of being paid) to get a slot aboard to graduate. This is a repeat of nursing students paying hospitals for on-the-job training (OJT) or adjunct experience.

There are practically no ship dedicated to training. One from a foundation was re-commissioned as a commercial vessel. Some are moored waiting for buyers. Two training ships pledged by South Korea but refused by MARINA were turned over to Vietnam.

There is a proposal to impose on schools student carrying capacity, a view expressed 20 years ago by JMG Vice Chair Ericson Marquez. Of the 30,000 graduates, JMG can only employ 5,000. Expectedly, schools balk they cannot survive on that ratio.

Process.

The EMSA findings and the Philippine response are now with the EU Commission which will decide on the issue. The normal protocol is for the Philippines to have six months more, at least, to prove she will be able to comply with EMSA requirements.

Should the Philippines fail again, future certificates issued by MARINA will no longer be recognized by the European Union. However, officers with a valid COC will be able to continue sailing until renewal time when the problem could be faced. This is aside from Port States sanctions and implementations yet to be discussed.

With a huge pool of students and cadets, crew and officers unable to board EU ships and sympathizing Administrations — the bogeyman becomes a horseman of the Apocalypse.

What now.

Countries are not waiting for the wake of the Philippine maritime industry. They are setting up alternatives to minimize the worst-case scenario.

Japan has set arrangements years earlier. Belgium and the Netherlands have “cooperation” with a maritime school allowing Philippine cadets to take board examinations from these two European Union states whose certificates are automatically recognized by EU.

Norway is checking on the viability where the Norway Training Center (NTC-Manila) conducts the Norwegian examinations. Norwegian maritime authorities will soon visit for discussions.

Norway has 22,500 Filipino seafarers endorsed on NIS vessels, 45% of all crew on Norwegian ships are Filipinos. It was Norway which initiated hiring of Filipino seafarers that accelerated development of merchant maritime in the Philippines.

Bureaucracy.

On the practical side, de-recognizing the Philippines will wound the already bloodied global industry on a downturn for years. Manpower supply will be more challenged as BIMCO reports shortage of merchant officers. Shipping firms and shipmanagement companies may not afford an “auction” for the highest bidder just to sufficiently crew their vessels.

Off-the-record, select MARINA officials lament, “We had an action plan but the thing is how do we proceed.” They are in concert that more important than findings of either internal or external auditors are answers to the questions, “… how do you react, what are your plans, how do you execute the plans…?”

They claim the system is the problem. MARINA has to answer to foreign parties even if we are a sovereign state. We have no leverage for a tit-for-tat attitude, like LTO may refuse foreigners driving licenses should they not give the same privilege (essentially the Carnet charter).

In several fora with stakeholders, Atty. Joy Vera Ban-eg, MARINA STCW-OIC Executive Director and concurrently, MARINA Deputy Director seeks pro-bono volunteers with expertise as MARINA is short on personnel.

Since the Dept. of Budget Management (DBM) has not allocated enough for MARINA, Atty. Ban-eg thinks DBM and The President are not convinced on the importance of the maritime sector in the national economy.

Blockades.

MARINA has to wrestle with technicalities. So much changes are required by the STCW with the Manila Amendment coming into force. While personnel could multi-task, the limited staff can only do so much in a full day. Savings reverts to the General Fund, not overstay with MARINA for use when needed.

MARINA may obligate to retain unspent funds for use on un-programmed tasks. But this risks technical malversation. Also, hiring is not that easy as civil service requires so many credentials; forcing the usage of “job orders”(JO) as contractual tenure for specific duties.

On this solution comes two hurdles: (1) Government policy to stop contractualization or Endo (slang for end-of-contract) and (2) DBM edicts no more JOs for 2018 (yet STCW alone is manned by 90% JOs).

Walk the talk.

But we need to introspect, some soul-searching. Enough of heroic platitudes, four conflicting special days to honor seafarers with videoke contests, raffles and parlor games, parades.

Planning is seeing the future today” says MARINA as it launches the 10-Year Maritime Industry Development Program (MIDP) last June 1st before a crowd of 700 maritime stakeholders. It has six priority areas: manpower development, ship building and repair and recycling, fishing and leisure, offshore, domestic, overseas.

Just sad, the MIDP “initiative” is based yet on President F. Marcos’ Presidential Decree No. 474 of June 1, 1974 which also created the MARINA 43 years ago.

We are still debating turfs: Is the MLC safety (therefore, MARINA) or labor (therefore, DOLE)?

The Philippine Experience is a paper delivered in Panama by MARINA Administrator Marcial Quirico C. Amaro III on seafarer challenges to comply with an increasing number of regulations.

Dr. Amaro answers the impact of global regulations with the Integrated Management System or SSHEQ meaning Safety (ISM Code), Security (ISP Code), Health (Occupational & Health OHSAS 18000), Environment (MARPOL & ISO 14001, and Quality (ISO 9001).

The former C/E hopes also to leverage with the individual seafarer’s health consciousness, self management, interpersonal skills and communication skills.

Long shot.

Another option is to change flag from EU or NIS, or to another flag of convenience (FoC). This might create challenges when the vessels arrive in European ports, the crew questioned, the ship detained. But admittedly, this is a difficult situation as EU is dependent on shipping, just like the rest of the world.

Lurking, or ready and equipped to offer alternatives with on-line, off-site digital and Convention and IMO accreditations, are Ship Registry leaders: Panama, Liberia and Marshall Island.

Worst comes to worst, MARINA may even not issue certificates given the Capex, expertise and staff needed to compete with these advanced and online digital systems already spread in a global web to prime markets. Cost-income ratio indicates funds may be better used in other areas of reforms.

How about our Ship Registry? Shipowners look for tax incentives but are given red-tape, instead. Already we have the manpower for a “one-stop” shop (much like Panama with the Expanded Canal and ancillaries of the logistics chain.

The Presidential Communication Office has conducted the FOI Rapid Survey which ended November 24th to know the “level of awareness across government in terms of operationalizing the people’s right to information.”

Government should be aware of the people’s right to action, too.

Mr. President, how goes the Philippines?

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