Thousands of Filipino seafarers could lose their jobs unless the Filipino government reaches and maintains international maritime standards on training. This is the chilling takeaway from a meeting with the European Commission (EC).
Earlier in February, the EU’s European Commission Directorate General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE) met with the Philippine Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA)’s head, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad. The meeting concerned the EU’s December 20, 2021 notification seeking the Philippines’ compliance with the International Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention.
The Philippines is a part of said convention which was first adopted by the International Conference on Training and Certification of Seafarers in 1978 and enforced in 1984. Since then, amendments to it were adopted almost every year or every other year since 1991. The last amendments were made in 2018.
The EC has written to the Philippine maritime authorities regarding compliance with the provisions of the convention, particularly concerning the education, training, and certification system of Filipino seafarers in the wake of an inspection conducted by the EC and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) in 2020.
Empedrad flew to Brussels to discuss the EMSA’s findings with the DG in February.
Several EMSA inspections were conducted in 2006, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017 and the last one was held in March 2020. The latest findings were what the EC is using to form its assessment, where deficiencies in Filipino seafarers’ training were found, and some of them were serious.
Should the EC decide that the Philippines is not meeting international standards, it can and will lay down sanctions such as the non-recognition of STCW certificates issued by the Philippine government through the National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP). If and when these certificates are nullified, Filipino seafarers will not be qualified to board European flag-registered ocean-going vessels.
The EU Delegation in Manila had earlier said that it discovered inconsistencies in the monitoring of inspections and evaluations of maritime schools in the Philippines, and some of these had to do with failings on simulators and on-board training.
“The Philippine authorities received the European Commission notification in the second half of December 2021. Under the applicable rules, the Philippines has to provide its formal reply to the European Commission within two months, and not later than March 10, 2022,” the EU said in a statement.
If a negative assessment is released, the EC will withdraw the recognition of Philippine-issued STCW certificates for masters and officers. This is a move that will inevitably be followed by the EU’s 27 member States.
Existing certificates for masters and officers will continue to be recognized until the time of their natural expiry, but new certificates will no longer be recognized and seafarers who hold them will not be allowed to work on EU-flagged ships.
The EU Ambassador to the Philippines, Luc Véron, said that the DG MOVE was grateful for Empedrad’s visit and explanations, and the EC will be making its assessment based on concrete evidence of any measures Philippine is taking to ensure compliance with the STCW Convention.
The MARINA has until March 10 to submit a written response. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) pointed out the EU has been identifying and calling attention to the Philippines’ training deficiencies since 2006.
“We strongly urge MARINA to comply. The livelihoods of thousands of our seafarers are at stake,” the DFA said in a statement.
DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. was blunt in his criticism against MARINA for failure to address the SCTW deficiencies.
“I warned MARINA and sent a memo to (Transportation Secretary) Art Tugade and the Palace. I will stand by the EU/EC which invited me in Brussels away from a useless conference to tell me what was up: 16 years of no action from MARINA and the impending doom of our maritime industry,” he tweeted.
“They offered to help MARINA but the in the past three and a half years, MARINA did nothing. All EU wants is the closure of inferior maritime schools, some owned by congressmen and others by government officials who wouldn’t know academic requirement if (it) was shoved up their asses. Get your fucking asses moving!!” he added.
Maritime schools charge expensive training fees
While the quality of the training programs for seafarers are a concern for both government authorities and seafarers, additionally, seafarers are also worried about the expensive price of training.
A survey conducted by the think tank imaritime.org revealed that among the top concerns of Filipino seafarers is the exorbitant training fees charged by maritime training institutions (MTIs).
The imaritime.org survey stated that the top three concerns of Filipino seafarers are their lack of a retirement plan, access to vaccine and training and certification. Seafarers also questioned the high number of mandatory training sessions they are required to take and the thick documents they have to bring onboard.
The MARINA STCW Office has already started to address some of the concerns and reduced the number of mandatory training courses. Four courses are now optional: Management Level Course (MLC), Operational Level Course (OLC), Electro Technical Officer Course (ETO Course) and the Electro Technical Ratings Course.
The STCW Office also said that it hopes to control the high training fees while maintaining quality, through regulation.
Gibi, the seafarer behind the blog seamanmemories.com, said that before Filipinos enroll in a maritime school, they should first determine if their parents can really support them and pay for the expenses of training and the eventual job search.
“There will also be rejections and delays along the way to becoming a seafarer,” he said. “It will take years for some, if they don’t have backers or if they are not part of any scholarship program.”
Gibi explained that tuition fees are not a joke and said, depending on the school, the annual fee can be between P20,000 to P90,000 (US$382 to $1,720). There are also miscellaneous fees, including books, stationary, lodging, meals, internet access, transport and other living expenses.
“All in all, expenses can run up to P10,500 a year if one is frugal, but that’s just for the first year. It takes three years of academic work to graduate, and that will take around P331,500 (US$6,340) in total.
A seafarer breaks down his training fees
Seafarer Racman J told Maritime Fairtrade that sometimes the effort to take the mandatory annual training and continue working as a seafarer is too much because of the high expenses.
“I am a seafarer like my father. I studied for three years to get a Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation degree. I thought it would be a great adventure to travel around the world aboard ships, but there have been so many difficulties that it’s so easy to be discouraged.
“The trainings are really expensive, you have to be away from your family, and you encounter corruption in the different maritime agencies that are supposed to be helping seafarers.”
Racman laid down the costs of the training courses he has had to take, as well as the costs of certificates and identification cards.
- Basic Training: P8,800
- Advanced Training: P16,000 (Advanced Fire Fighting, Medical First Aid, Proficiency in Fast Rescue Boat, Proficiency in Survival Craft, Rescue Boat)
- Seafarer with Designated Security Duties (SDSD): P5,500 (After the COVID-19 lockdown, this went up by P800)
- Seaman’s Book: P1,000
- Seaman’s Identification Card (SID): P600
- Safety (For Passenger Vessel): P1,800 – P2,500
- Crowd (For Passenger Vessel): P1,800 – P2,500
- Crisis (For Passenger Vessel): P1,800 – P2,500
- Marpol Consolidated 1-5 (For Tanker Vessel): P1,500 – P2,500
- Basic Training for Chemical Oil Tanker: P4,500
- Deck Watch Keeping (For Decks): P1,500 to P3,500
- Engine Watch Keeping (For Engine): 1,500 to 3,500
- OIC (Officer in Charge) Exam Application: P1,000
- OIC Practical Assessment: P10,000 (As of July 14, 2000, this went up to P16,500. This is only a two-day activity!)
- Operational Level Course (OLC) Part A and B: P15,000
- Global Maritime Distress and Safety System: P9,000
- GOC (General Operator’s Certificate) Exam Application: P85
- GOC Practical Assessment: P7,500
- Ship Simulator and Bridge Teamwork (SSBT) with Bridge Resource Management: P7,500
- COC/COE (Certificate of Recognition/Endorsement): P2,000
- GOC Certificate: P1,000
Racman said: “Most of these certificates are valid only for five years, so sometimes before you get on a ship, the certificate has already lapsed. You have to take another round of licensure trainings. You also have to pay for the COP (Certificate of Proficiency) after every training and each COP costs P250-P350!”
Because of all the expenses, he said that people should think really hard before attempting to become a seafarer.
“We are really like milking cows for the training schools and the government agencies that are supposed to be helping us. Seafarers are hailed as heroes because we send a lot of dollars back to the country in the form of remittances, but when we need support, we don’t get it.”
Photo credit: iStock/ Iam Anupong