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The Philippines, EMSA, STCW audits and what happens next?

The Philippines, EMSA, STCW audits and what happens next?
Spending the first two days of this week visiting companies in Manila for the upcoming Seatrade Magazine Philippines country report it was clear October’s audit of the country’s compliance with STCW by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is a major concern for the world’s largest supplier of seafarers.

The audit in October will be the third since 2010 when EMSA, somewhat spectacularly, threatened to ban Filipino seafarers from EU-flagged ships after the Philippines had failed to act on recommendations from a previous STCW audit in 2006. The threatened ban would potentially put 60,000 to 70,000 Filipino seafarers out of work and leave European-flagged owners with a serious crew shortage.

This year sees the country facing two audits, one which took place in April, and another in October.

When Seatrade Global spoke to Nicasio Conti, then the head of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), the day before the audit started in April, he was confident the Philippines authorities were ready. It would seem though that the audit in April did not go as well as had been hoped. As one industry official commented “The 2010 audit was bad, the April audit was not so bad, but not so good either.”

Reform of a system that sees multiple bodies competing not to lose power over maritime certification as authority is centralised has proved tremendously difficult, even given the full backing of Philippines President Benigo Aquino.

Conti has since been replaced as the head of Marina by Maximo Q. Mejia, previously with the World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden.

Opinions on what the result would be of October’s audit be varied with some confident the Philippines will make it through, while others believing too little had been done too late, and the country and the industry would pay a price for this. The replacement of Conti as the head of Marina also drew mixed reaction with some feeling he had done a good job and had been made a scapegoat. However, his successor Mejia was in turn noted for his experience in maritime education.

While there is a split in the views as to whether the Philippines will actually pass the October EMSA audit no-one really expects a wholesale ban on Filipino seafarers serving on European-flagged vessels. Indeed such a move is seen as being potentially counter-productive for the European authorities as it could see the large scale flagging-out to open registries such as Liberia and Panama by European shipowners as they seek to side step any such ban.

Instead, if the Philippines does not pass the audit, some sort of compromise is expected. One possibility would be the stationing of EMSA officers in the Philippines to help the reform process. Countries such as Denmark and Norway are already offering their technical help.


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