Filipino maritime schools protest inclusion of education provision in proposed Magna Carta for Seafarers bill

Not everything is smooth sailing for the proposed Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers (MCFS) bill, which specifies the rights and ensure the welfare of Filipino seafarers, even as it is up for the signature of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr after it was passed by the senate in December 2023.

The Philippine Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI), a 73-member strong national association of maritime higher education institutions, has taken issue with Chapter XVIII on Shipboard Training of Cadets, and said that the proposed measure in its current form fails to recognize the role of the private sector “as one of the main engines for national growth and development”.

“While we support the Magna Carta and the rights embodied in the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 through the transposition of the Convention requirements into law, we strongly believe that there should be no room for education and training in the consolidated bill,” it said.

PAMI said the issue of education and training has already been incorporated in the Republic Act 10635, which implements the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW), and that the Magna Carta bill is going beyond its purpose of serving as the enabling law of the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (MLC 2006).

“We believe that the Magna Carta should focus on seafarers’ rights related to conditions of work such as the right to a decent workplace. This is what the MLC 2006 stands for,” the PAMI said. If the bill is signed into law as it is currently written, PAMI claimed it will restrict the supply of cadets and future seafarers.

“This limited workforce could potentially diminish the Philippines’ standing as a leading global supplier of seafarers and damage our nation’s overall economy,” it said.

In the proposed bill, maritime schools are required to have training ships or simulators, and enter into agreements with shipping companies for the required shipboard training of their students. The schools are also to limit student admissions to 150 percent of the number that the schools can deploy for on-board training (OBT).

The proposed bill also prohibits schools from collecting tuition fees for the OBT unless the training is conducted on the schools’ training ship. They are also to prioritize OBT for students who have finished the academic requirements of their BSMT (Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation) or BSMarE (Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering) programs.

The president of Navigator International Maritime Training and Assessment Center Edgardo Flores said the provisions for seafarers on education were impractical and constituted a “death sentence” not only against maritime schools but to the Philippines’ maritime industry.

“How many students complete their BSMT or BSMarE programs? As far as I know, at least 400 deck and 300 engine students every year need onboard-training in each maritime school. Can a school acquire a training ship that can accommodate 700 to 800 students per year? If this is the case, a school needs seven to eight training ships, with each capable of accommodating 100 students. This is a very difficult requirement to meet,” Flores said.

The proposed bill does not have provisions for funds for maritime schools to improve their training capabilities. Section 103 on Appropriations stipulates among others: “The amount necessary to carry out the provisions of this Act including but not limited to the funding of Seafarer Welfare Centers, the Stop Shop Centers for Seafarers …, the purchase of training ships, simulators and other technologies by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), incentives and awards systems for MHEIs …, shall be charged against the current year’s appropriation of the departments and agencies concerned. No such amount shall be included in the annual General Appropriation Act.”

Maritime affairs advocate Atty. Brenda V. Pimentel said Section 103 adds to the confusion as it suggests that MARINA will acquire training ships and simulators.

“Is MARINA given the mandate to engage in maritime education by providing training ships? Is MARINA authorized to operate training ships? Will MARINA’s budget allocation allow it to procure training ships, not to mention the funds needed to man-operate and maintain the ship?” Pimentel said.

The lawyer is the former International Maritime Organization (IMO) regional coordinator for technical cooperation for East Asia, and former head of MARINA.

Flores argued that most maritime schools do not have funds to buy and operate training ships and suggested that simulators can take the place of OBT.

However, according to the SCTW, onboard training is a requirement for certification. Currently, students need to undergo OBT as part of the academic requirements to graduate.

Pimentel said the proposed bill must limit coverage to the welfare of actual, working seafarers. She said the current draft is trying to combine the concerns of seafarers’ rights with the education and training of maritime students.

“Seafarers are engaged and deployed for work onboard the ship while maritime students, for all intents and purposes, are still not certificated as seafarers,” she said.

Photo credit: iStock/ Natee Meepian

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