EUROPEAN BAN AGAINST PHIL AGITATES

 

The prestigious CrewConnect Global Conference November 5-7 expectedly would highlight navigational safety, competency training and crew welfare. Yet, the elephant in the room, the big concern, is the Philippine failure to comply with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) standards for the implementation of the STCW Code and possible ban of Filipino officers on EU-flagged vessels.

Initial remarks were coached on usual formalities. But most responses on the Q&A and open forum and interviews were focused on the EMSA issue.

IMO Maritime Ambassador and Phil Transmarine Carriers Chair Carlos Salinas claims the IMO regulatory framework has highlighted the importance of seafarer quality and competence; that in the Philippine context, the country became the largest supplier of maritime professionals to the world.

“With the equalization of proficiency standards to the STCW Convention, shipowners seek out Filipino seafarers because of their consistent competence, dedication and professionalism. The very success of this conference over the last 20 years is living proof of this.”

Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) OIC Vice-Admiral Narciso A. Vingson, Jr. shared his agency’s plans for sustained growth of the country’s maritime industry – taking pride in the Philippines being known as the 4th largest shipbuilding nation and one of the primary providers of high quality marine human resources in the world.

 

Yeah, EMSA.

Vingson says “We are proud to report that we have submitted to the EC the actions and measures that were put in place.” This may have triggered that several EMSA audits pointed to 42 shortcomings on policies and requirements for certification, maritime administration and training institutions.

Statements started to get sharper.

Intl Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Chairman Esben Poulsson called for a thorough revision of STCW saying in its current form it was not fit with increasing number of owners opting for their own additional training and requirements.

Poulsson sees a stark contrast: the Philippine government struggling to bring up to speed a seafarer training school system that churns out 25,000 to 30,000 graduates a year of which only 20% ever make it to sea to serve on an international vessel.

 

Flip side.

Top-level Phil crewing agencies and intl ship managers and owners in Manila have invested heavily in training; for them, STCW is simply a basic standard, a pre-requisite for a job. The training these companies do clearly goes well beyond, “easily demonstrated by the intensity … we saw being trained on a simulator at V. Group’s facility in Manila.”

Principals know which are the good schools and they only take graduates from the good ones.

However, an EMSA ban on Filipino officers from EU-flagged ships will affect everyone, including the quality operators.

 

Varied views.

Fared Khan, Marine Director-Wallem Shipmanagement, tells Marino World Vingson is very positive and looks at the bigger picture, “(W)e are positive that the Philippines Government will do the right thing for the Filipino seafarers. But we need to change and we need to step up, we need to meet all the EMSA requirements… I think the future is looking much better.”

These were from the November 5th panel discussions at the Pre-Conference: CruiseConnect Summit & Stakeholder Meeting with the Government of the Philippines:

Capt. Jo Even Tomren, Deputy Director-Norwegian Training Center Manila (NTC-M) was very   impressed on the growth in the cruise market, noting the need for experienced people; yet “we’re facing a possible ban of Filipino STCW certificates and also a withdrawal from the IMO White List.”

Mr. Simon Frank, Director Crew Operations Director-East, V. Group Global (Singapore), as panelist on Future Forward Forum: Technology, travel trends and the cruiser profile. Can we keep up?

He accepts “Filipino contribution to the fleets in the whole world is obviously huge …” and that a ban “…without a doubt a huge disaster for all of us.” But Frank says a contingency plan must not be sitting down, but “working with schools…facilities here, to enhance the quality and to assist in building competency”.

NTC-M hosted a closed door meeting focused on EMSA, by invitation only and pre-registration as it was held afternoon of November 6th, simultaneous with the main conference.

 

Winners and losers.

European crewing nations such as Croatia clearly have something to gain if there is and can rightly point the Phil has been given many chances to get its house fully in order.

Norway believes a ban is likely. She employs the most Filipino seafarers in Europe — yet Norway is not a part of the EU. If there is a ban, there are also indications it will only be on new certificates, not impact on Filipino officers already serving on European-flagged ships.

EMSA gave the Phil 13 years to comply with its demands — to upgrade the diploma mills, to avoid harming seafarers who work for quality owners and managers who have invested to raise standards of the Phil crewing sector.

 

Mum is the word.

The Kingdom of Norway was never a member of the EU, declining in ‘72 and ’94 but closely associated with membership in the European Economic Area (EEA), a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), two dominant western European trade blocs.

Norway is the EU’s fifth most important import partner, trade amounted to €91.85 billion in 2008, primarily energy and only 14.1% manufactured products. The EU’s exports to Norway amounted to €43.58 billion, primarily manufactured products.

Andreas Nordseth, Director General-Danish Maritime Authority and Chairman of EMSA refuses Marino World any comment on EMSA issues, asIt’s an EU thing so the legal framework is that the European Commission speaks on behalf of all the member states.”

Roy Machart, IMEC Board member, confirms the confidentiality, “… they do not speak too much on the timelines or deadlines, but they want to see continuous developments, that’s what they want to look at.”

 

Grapevine.

Media was banned on meetings but proceedings filtered from reliable sources.

Vingson released  updates on government actions (practically confirmed by him in a later interview with Marino World, even expanding that the NTC-M and NMA proposals may be Plan B, that international  politics could be at play, that he honored Gen. Guerrero’s report who left October 30th and as he moved in second of November).

Capt. Reynold Sabay, Operations Training Manager – OSM Maritime Group, thinks Norway reluctant to do what it proposes should the Philippine be derecognized. He has reservations Norway giving the exams on what competence, opening our schools and training centers to Norway’s audits? Sabay is impressed on Vingson’s cool who asserted “our Plan B is to execute Plan A”. The captain considers this “critical thinking, critical leadership, strategic thinking, strategic leadership.”

Capt. Reynaldo Casareo, President – Cargo Safeway, questions whether the alternatives are sustainable in business terms. Japanese interest are not even discussed nor factored in, even if Japanese fleets are flagged Panama, British and Singapore registries.

 

Pragmatics.

InterManager Sec-Gen Kuba Szymanski claims other flag states don’t care on the EMSA ban since they will just give Filipinos the certifications, better business for them. EMSA doesn’t ban but may influence the European Commission to do so. Szymanski is puzzled why the Phil is targeted when there are countries in Europe with the same problem but are not even audited.

Capt. Jeffrey Solon, COO-Centennial Transmarine, thinks the issue is business rather than compliance with other flags preparing for the manna. He is raring to tell EU/EC to their faces this view with colorful expletives. When the Phil was scrapped from the White List, President Estrada ignored IMO; later, IMO scrambled to return the Phil when manning felt the drop.

 

On hold.

As yet an OIC, VAdmiral Vingson cannot ply on full steam, confined to routine administrative tasks even if already the Executive Director of MARINA’s STCWOffice since 15 October 2018.

But his military record is outstanding: PMA Sandiwa Class ’85, foreign studies on anti-submarine and amphibious warfare, gunfire operations and combat communications, even earning a Masters on System Engineering.

Vingson is a “SeaDog”, having commanded a gunboat, a patrol craft and the Presidential yatch. He crafted Navy’s Human Capital Strategy, took his third star as Inspector General and retired after 31 years as 73rd Deputy Chief of the Armed Forces, the chief strategist and policy maker of the military.

 

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CALL TO REVISE STCW TRAINING REGIME

 

Speaking in Manila, Esben Poulsson, Chairman-Intl Chamber of Shipping (ICS), has called for a comprehensive revision of the IMO STCW Convention which governs global standards for the training and certification of around two million merchant seafarers.

The last major overhaul undertaken by IMO was a quarter of a century ago, with the STCW Manila Amendments in 2010 changing a few provisions.

Mr. Poulsson claims, “It’s now commonplace for employers to routinely provide additional training and assessments prior to the deployment of many officers holding STCW certification which raises questions as to whether the Convention as currently drafted is still fit for purpose in the 21st Century.”

 

Adapt.

“A fully revised STCW regime would allow the industry to adapt much more effectively to technological developments including increased automation. It should provide a structure of sufficient flexibility to hit the moving target of a changing world fleet, and may need to develop a more modular approach to competency accumulation and certification.

The arrival of new technology is already changing the functions that seafarers perform on board and the skills and training they require.”

 

Outdated.

The ICS Chairman has more concerns:  “A revised STCW should seek to improve transparency and the robustness of implementation oversight.  The so called STCW WhiteList of nations that have communicated information to IMO about compliance now serves little real purpose as it includes virtually everyone.

ICS would not wish to tear up the whitelist without a suitable replacement but there has to be a more transparent and robust monitoring system of national implementation to ensure that STCW continues to deliver competent and quality seafarers.”

 

About time.

ICS increasingly views the STCW 2010 Manila Amendments “as an interim revision” which had added some new training and certification provisions without making the structural changes needed to accommodate new developments in training or the competences that would be required to operate ships in the future.

Poulsson recalls in the early ‘90s, IMO had responded positively to industry requests to address serious concerns about training standards in many of the newly emerging seafarer supply countries. “With the involvement of all industry stakeholders, we think the time is now right to consider the next comprehensive revision of STCW” akin to that of 1995.

He questions why hard-won STCW certification is not enough to land a job. He is suspicious when a large numbers are having to take additional courses – often at their own expense – smelling something “very wrong with the global training requirements.”

 

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