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EMSA, Philippines and STCW, and why has it taken so long?

EMSA, Philippines and STCW, and why has it taken so long?
Sometimes watching the progress of an event in shipping regulation can be quite depressing, in that everyone knows what the answer is, but no-one is either willing or able to make it actually happen. A good case in point is the Philippines finally passing a bill that there should be a single administrative body in charge of maritime training standards and certification in relation to STCW.

Anyone who has followed the progress of the European Maritime Safety Agency’s (EMSA) audits of the Philippines compliance with STCW standards will understand just how long this has taken. EMSA first brought up the Philippines STCW deficiencies in an audit way back in 2006. A return audit in 2010 found that not much, if anything, had been done. Then came the shocking development to the industry, EMSA threatened to ban Filipino officers from EU-flagged ships unless the situation was rectified.

Now while the Philippines does have some excellent seafarer training facilities, often supported by quality international shipowners, it also has some maritime schools that are little more than money making machines for their owners. This one of the reasons why the country’s maritime schools churn out around 30,000 graduates, of which only around 15% will ever actually sail on vessel.

One the core problems for EMSA was there was no single body in charge, in fact maritime training came under at least six different government bodies. Conservations with Philippines officials about the problem always involved an alphabet soup of acronyms such as CHED (Commission on Higher Education) or PRC (Professional Regulatory Commission) none of which, for rather obvious reasons, were well particularly versed in the requirements of international shipping regulations. However, they also did not want to give up their power, and who does?

Several audits later, including two last year, and there is finally a bill passed designating the obvious appropriate body the Maritime Industrial Authority (Marina) as the sole administrative body. It is worth noting an executive order from President Benigno Aquino III designated Marina as the sole body in charge in 2012. But apparently that did not work quite as well as intended.

So now we are still are awaiting the results of the last EMSA audit in October 2013, a ban having been threatened for four years now. It is worth noting Georgia, which followed a very similar pattern to the Philippines in 2006 and 2010 audits, did indeed have its officers banned from EU-flagged ships for more than two years. Maybe the much more limited impact of that decision on European shipping made that an easier decision for EMSA to take. Meanwhile, we watch the Philippines seemingly makes last ditch efforts to meet the standards it had been asked to do years ago.

The key point here is that these are international issues of safety of lives and environment at sea. Is an eight-year process from initial audit in 2006, with the problems still yet to be fully resolved, really acceptable on any side of the equation?