Repost: The possibility of Filipino seafarers losing their certification in the coming year because of poor compliance with international training standards is causing panic among various government officials and their respective agencies. This month, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is set to retake an audit of the country’s seafaring standards and officials are scrambling to find both short and long-term solutions to the problem which has remained unresolved for 16 years.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has sent marching orders to the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), the Department of Transportation (DOTr), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) to work together to ensure the Philippines finally pass the standards for seafaring set by the European Union (EU).
The EU has earlier issued warnings that if the Philippines continues to fail to meet the training and education standards for its maritime workers, Filipino seafarers run the risk of being terminated and losing the right to board European vessels.
Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople in interviews said officials are heeding the president’s call and they will put together an “implementation plan.”
Ople said all the agencies involved in addressing the EMSA issue have not really looked at the root causes for the country’s continuous failure to pass the annual audit. She said while the agencies have been passing compliance in the last decades, the shortcomings pointed out in the EMSA audit have not been strategically dealt with.
From the House of Representatives, the head of the Committee of Ways and Means Rep. Joey Salceda said congress gives full support to efforts to improve the training standards for Filipino seafarers. He said he is personally committed to ensuring the country’s compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).
He also stressed the importance of keeping maritime logistics secure during “this turbulent period” the international economy is going through because of the war between Russia and Ukraine.
In a letter to the European Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Veron, Salceda said many of the 50,000 Filipino seafarers at risk of losing their jobs are his constituents hailing from the Bicol region.
“Over the past few months, the European maritime industry has relied heavily on Filipino seafarers, who are culturally predisposed towards the West. They have very few problems with us culturally,” Salceda said.
The lawmaker added the Philippines should seriously address the concerns of the EMSA given that it has failed the audit for the last 16 years.
“Keeping the EU-hired seafaring jobs is critical as our country protects its foreign currency reserves and seeks to recover from a fluid domestic jobs situation,” he said. One in every five foreign seafarers on EU-flagged ships, mostly from Norway, Greece, Malta and Germany, is from the Philippines.
Salceda dismissed news the EU will ban Filipino seafarers from their flagged ships if the Philippines again does not pass this year’s audit, but admitted there will be shipping companies that will seriously consider the EMSA findings that will come out.
“And if the findings are too adverse, some of them might hesitate if not avoid hiring Filipinos. That will surely hurt jobs in the sector,” he said. Salceda offered to help improve the training systems of Philippine maritime schools.
House Deputy Majority Leader and political organization MARINO Party-list Rep., Sandro Gonzalez, meanwhile, commended the directive of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to urge various agencies under the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to create an implementation plan that will address the Philippines’ deficiencies as found by the EMSA.
The EMSA found 13 shortcomings and 23 grievances in its last audit, most of these pertaining to the lack of training equipment of local maritime schools and the inconsistencies in teaching and assessment in the general seafarers’ education system.
This year is said to be the final year for the Philippines to address its deficiencies when it comes to seafarers’ education, training, and certification system. It has failed the EMSA audit since 2006 as through the years, maritime authorities and adjunct agencies failed to implement effective measures that will ensure complete compliance.
If the EU withdraws its recognition of Philippine-issued STCW certificates, the country will have to go through a new round of evaluation and satisfactorily pass this evaluation with positive findings before it can recover EU recognition. Without this certification recognition, Filipino officers and ratings will be considered unqualified for employment in European Union-plying vessels that require such certification.
The EMSA reviews cover key areas of program and course design, review and approval; monitoring, supervision and evaluation of training and assessment; examination and assessment of competence; availability and use of training facilities and simulators; onboard training, and issuance, revalidation and registration of certificates and endorsements.
Potential of billions in lost remittances
Jerome Pampolina, assistant secretary, Migrant Affairs Department, said the potential loss of 50,000 jobs in the seafaring and manning industries will mean the loss of cash remittances from all sea-based overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) for five years amounting to P376.12 billion (US$6.4 billion). He said a “tripartite roadmap” should be established to strengthen the Philippines’ competitiveness in the seafaring industry.
Eduardo de Vega, undersecretary, Department of Foreign Affairs, promised they will closely coordinate with all EU-member states to facilitate productive discussions on the Philippines’ compliance to the EMSA’s STCW.
“We always present to the EU how important and competent our seafarers are, and that it is a mutually beneficial matter for us to be certified. We also discuss this with the European maritime companies because they want to continue hiring Filipino seafarers,” he said.
More focused educational programs are what the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is calling for to improve STCW compliance. The agency said a five-year moratorium should be imposed on new marine transportation at marine engineering programs of the National Maritime Admission Examinations (NMAE). It also recommends the removal of all non-compliance programs.
For its part, the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) said there is no imminent danger Filipino seafarers will lose their certification. The agency tasked with overseeing Filipino seafarers’ training submitted the Philippines’ Final Report of Compliance to the European Commission in March 2022. It is the lead government agency implementing the STCW.
“The EU deliberation on the Philippine response may not happen until spring of 2023 or about March to May 2023,” said Samuel Batalla, officer in charge of MARINA’s STCW Office during a recent hearing in congress led by the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs.
Problems beyond the STCW
The stand of seafarers’ grassroots organizations, on the other hand, is more critical. They believed so long as the basic concerns of Filipino seafarers remain unaddressed, more problems will continue to proliferate. These problems, they pointed out, go beyond the STCW.
In a recent program launch in Manila, the Concerned Seafarers of the Philippines (CSP) said issues regarding salary, job security, health, and seafarers’ rights are urgent issues the government and its maritime agencies should focus on.
The group said Filipino seafarers are already very hardworking and sacrifice much to build their careers at sea and away from their families. It was unfair, it said, that their skills and training should be questioned because the government fails to implement a better-quality system of education.
Training and paperwork alone costs seafarers P83,000, and seafarers have to pay for this even before they have actually gotten onboard a ship.
Crewing Online Media Team
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