On the EMSA Threat: EN GARDE, PHILIPPINES!

 

In manning the world’s fleet, Philippines is a sleeping giant — not just because of ratings but of marine officers. This should be the fall back should the European Union (EU) derecognize the certificate of competency (COC) of Filipino merchant mariners.

MARINA Administrator Rey Leonardo Guerrero signaled this realization at a press briefing September 28th on Philippine compliance with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) audit findings.

Referring to the threat, Guerrero said, “… it is good that the nation is now aware of the plight of our maritime professionals and no less than the President himself has taken direct hand to address the issue.”

The MARINA head underscored the “national significance” of the concerns, given his agency is the designated single maritime administration for the implementation of the 1978 Intl Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) for seafarers, as amended.

 

Problem.

If the “specific actions” the Philippines has taken are not accepted by the European Union (EU), the country may be de-certified or de-accredited, banning our seafarers from working on EU-flagged vessels.

Thousands of jobs may be lost should the European Commission (EC) accepts the assessment report by the European Maritime Safety Administration (EMSA) which conducted continuous audits in the Philippines from 2006 to 2017.

 

The crux.

Is the Philippines capable to give complete and full effect to the STCW Convention, the international regulation that sets the minimum global standard for maritime education, training and certification system?

In July 2017, the EC Assessment Report detailed 42 shortcomings of our maritime industry in (1) national policies, (2) maritime administration, (3) requirements for certification, and (4) maritime education and training institutions (METI).

 

Reaction.

MARINA responded “fully addressing these EMSA findings and implementing corrective actions by October 31, 2018”:

  • Revised seven circulars to harmonize with the STCW Convention, cascading implementation with raising standards for certifications;
  • Upgraded training standards with the approval of the refresher course in advanced firefighting, the four mandatory training courses on passenger ships, and the electro- technical officer course;
  • Developed comprehensive internal process to its quality management system that gave rise to an IT support system to evaluate and monitor METIs;
  • Issued a joint memorandum with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) making MARINA as lead evaluator monitoring maritime education programs;
  • Monitored Maritime Higher Education Institutions (MHEIs). Of 30 MHEIs inspected, only seven conformed to the STCW Convention and were issued ultimatums to comply.
  • Executive Order 63 also “ensures the sustainability of the effects of its corrective measures pertaining to the EMSA findings” as the said EO reflects presidential support on MARINA efforts.

 

On target.

Three deadlines: April 30, 2018, Philippine report must contain “measures done, or intended, to areas mentioned.” Next deadline is October 31st, for submission of “evidence of implementation” and a year after, 31 October 2019, the Philippines must show “evidence support Information Technology (IT) systems have been developed.”

Last October 22nd at the Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI) 2nd General Assembly, Guerrero said, “It is not a matter of being in danger. In the first place, we’re not in danger because we are very confident of the competence and quality of our seafarers.”

EMSA insists they are not just about compliance, they want evidence. At the last IMO 120th Council meeting, Guerrero explained to European Commission representatives to show proof, it would take more than a year (in fact, more than two years).

 

Appeal.

His focus is  “developing our country using the maritime industry,” which remits about US$5-billion annually, gives jobs to over 700,000 maritime professionals. Aside are our rich but untapped marine and offshore resources.

Guerrero exhorted PAMI to join its “whole industry approach” as no single law, plan nor program can resolve the EMSA crisis and fallout.

It was almost an in-your-face appeal: shape up as other schools do. Competitions will raise standards but it will also decimate the incompetent.

Reacting, an officer of Siquijor State College (SSC) lamented locals cannot afford to study in urban schools. Being a state college, it is under-funded to secure required facilities. To augment, SSC appealed to its alumni that donated almost PhP1-million to retain the program.

 

Whispers.

Rumors continue to fly the Philippine has been axed or de-certified. There is a bilateral agreement of a deadline by October, 2019 yet. This cannot just be ignored under the principle of pacta sunct servanda (agreements must be kept).

There is also that pragmatic advantage Filipino seafarers are a major block in crewing EU vessels. It is not easy to replace thousands which must confront issues on certification, skill, salary, work and social attitudes and availability.

Fact is, a number of EU members are reportedly positioning “their” accrediting facilities on foreign soil (the Philippines) circumventing technicality over business interest.

 

Voices.

Politicians are now in the act. Like Sen. Grace Poe asking MARINA Deputy STCW Executive Director Joy Vera Ban-eg to “Please update me weekly…” and signboards in schools stating they are yet to comply.

Capt. Edgardo Flores, GM-Eastern Mediterranean Manning Agency, criticized EMSA audited the schools on IMO Model Course which is a vocational course; that of the Philippines is baccalaureate.

One may then see many “observations” (which may be done or not) and are not “findings” (which must be remedied).

Flores clarifies we’re a signatory to IMO, compliant already on “minimum requirement.” He asks why are they asking now for more instead of their mission to assist, provide, organize and help?

 

Pragmatics.

Capt. Rey Valeros, Jr., Managing Director-Stratosphere Shipmanagement Group, strongly believes Filipinos will never be de-certified on EU vessels, shipowners won’t allow it.

Capt. Valeros shared his own experience. Owners will find ways to circumvent, as in his case. To “comply” with certifications, they secured his from the Isle of Man, then from Panama.

Valeros also points to too much access of EMSA in our schools, getting to the guts of our systems and institutions rather than just coordinating with lead agencies as they do in other countries.

 

Real problem.

POEA report on the decline of sea-based workers (442,820 in 2016; 378,072 in 2017).

Flores said they recruited 40 cadets from the Eastern Block, to increase every year. They are now competitive with English, our former advantage. They ask less on the CBA, prominently Ukraine.

The Management Level Course requirement caused bottleneck in 2016, forcing him to recruit a Caucasian who performed well, now hired on permanent status.

End-users must be asked, briefed, guided on policy and amendments as they are the first to be affected. Ask the Greeks about EMSA, the answer will be, “That’s Greek to me.”

 

Numbers.

Derecognition affects about 73,200 Filipino seafarers (officers and ratings) 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.

Flores estimates barely 4,000-8,000 junior officers could be affected as EU flag vessels are decreasing.

 

Shipboard training.

On the September 24th public hearing on the Senate Magna Carta of Seafarers bill, Joint Manning Group Vice Chair Ericson Marquez explained to Sen. Joel Villanueva:

  • 26,000 cadets graduate every year with three years academics
  • Only 5,000 goes on board, including those in the domestic shipping (bearing an annual surplus of 21,000)
  • CHEd mandated to accept first year students based on the school “carrying capacity,” meaning how many cadets have they boarded based on previous years.
  • (JMG is close to Japanese principals having donated a training ship; another one to be named Kapitan Gregorio Oca to board about 120 cadets per year but still too miniscule to the gaping requirements)

The JBL Maritime Vanguard Services may launch this November 8 a first-of-its-kind training ship offering hands-on On-board Training (OBT) staffed by qualified, licensed training officers. It will be named MV Capt. John B. Lacson, a tribute to the pioneer maritime university in the region, JBLFMU.

The Philippine Shipowners Association already expressed support to cooperate with MARINA in providing shipboard training to cadets.

 

Revisit.

Capt Valeros asks aloud: why not return the practice of boarding cadets on M/S Philippines as it sails around the world, training 200 cadets yearly, at least.

This he follows with a more critical policy disagreement: why can the Administration spend billions on drug addict rehabilitation and not on facilities for maritime cadets?

Capt. Flores accepted the invitation, pro bono, of MARINA Deputy Administrator for Operations Nanette Dinopol to look into the domestic shipping, even doing the rounds to inspect, observe and recommend.

 

IMO.

The Philippines is also overdue for periodical reporting and independent evaluation at the IMO. All these should be submitted well before the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting in December 2018. This timeline may even be more challenging than the EC, taking into account that each report may take months to be evaluated.

 

Niceties.

In a courtesy visit last September 26th to IMO Sec-Gen Kitack Lim, Transport  Sec. Arthur Tugade noted the progress made by the MARINA such as the “… hassle-free issuance of the Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book (SIRB)… online appointment system, removal of uniform rental fees, upgrading and automating exams.”

Notably, the seafarer’s book is issued in a day from the usual 15 days.

Sec-Gen Lim responded, “the Philippines is a very important member of the IMO, given its well-motivated maritime workforce.”

Lim adds Filipino seafarers are highly regarded in the maritime industry, often citing them “for their diligence and discipline.”

Sec. Tugade invited Sec-Gen to visit the Philippines next year, seen as another diplomatic effort to buff our image on the world stage.

 

-o0o-

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