Philippines forms advisory council to address seafarers’ welfare, training

In a move meant to unite the Philippine shipping industry and crystalize the Philippines government’s promise to protect the welfare of Filipino seafarers and to address training requirements, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) led the creation of the International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs (IACGMA) on January 10.  

Representatives from international and local maritime organizations of shipowners, seafarers, and shipping companies, including the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), signed a memorandum of agreement with the DMW.

The new advisory group wants to implement measures to avert the possible ban of Filipino seafarers from working on EU ships as previously, Philippines did not meet the requirements of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). EMSA may in the near future release a negative decision on Philippine-issued STCW certificates and this will impact a minimum of 50,000 Filipino seafarers, who will stand to lose their jobs if this happens.

DMW’s undersecretary Atty. Patricia Yvonne Caunan said conforming to the EMSA’s requirements will be a priority of the department and the IACGMA.

Based on findings of the Maritime Just Transition Task Force, almost 800,000 seafarers will need to undergo training by the second half of this year on how to utilize new technologies and manage sea vessel systems.   

According to DMW Secretary Susan Ople, the IAGCGMA was established following the December 13, 2022 meeting President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had with shipping industry leaders in Brussels.

During the meeting, Marcos made the recommendation for the creation of a new advisory board where the members would be maritime employers, shipowners, seafarer unions and the International Labor Organization (ILO). As part of their function as members of the IAGCGMA, they would provide expert advice on major maritime issues that affect Filipino seafarers.

Marcos said while there was recognition in the last decade as the Philippines has done very well in terms of being the leading provider of seafarers around the world, “the changing situation after the pandemic, especially when we talk about supply line problems, all of these areas have to be revisited.” 

Compliance with the STCW

During the press conference following the signing, Ople said the key aims of the IACGMA included providing adequate training to Filipino seafarers in compliance with the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention.

Issues affecting seafarers such as unfair labor practices, ambulance chasing and employment concerns were among the main discussion points the IAGFCMA would address.

“The Philippine government through its Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) welcomes the participation of well-respected industry associations and leaders from the global shipping industry in developing our roadmap to a just transition as well as boosting the global competitiveness of Filipino seafarers across the globe,” Ople said.

The IACGMA also gathered local agencies to work with its international partners, among these are the Department of Transportation and its attached agency, Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA).

Secretary general of ECSA, Sotiris Raptis, said the group welcomes the opportunity to contribute its expertise to the advisory committee. She said Filipino seafarers play a crucial role in the shipping industry of the European Union and in keeping the European trade moving.

“By engaging in the International Advisory Committee together with our industry partners, ECSA strives to be a strategic partner to the Philippines and facilitate a productive dialogue with the EU institutions on matters of key importance such as seafarers’ qualifications, training, and certification,” she said.

ICS’ secretary general Guy Platten lauded the formation of the IAGCGMA and praised that it had been established so quickly at the heels of the meeting in December. 

“It signifies the strength of commitment from industry and the Philippines to ensuring safety and protection for Filipino seafarers, who make up a huge 14 percent of the global seafarer workforce,” he said.

He added that ICS looks forward to collaborating with ECSA, IMEC, ITF and the Philippine government to address the challenges Filipino seafarers are now facing.

A milestone move for seafarers

Attendees at the virtual signing ceremony said the formation of the IACGMA was an important milestone in the public-public discourse, and that it would usher in a new era for the Philippine maritime industry.

The chairman of IMEC, Capt. Belal Ahmed, said they welcome the opportunity to give assistance to addressing the concerns of Filipino seafarers.  He added that the IMEC is committed to efforts to educate and employ Filipino seafarers and they will be providing assistance to the IACGMA through its Train the Trainer program.

ITF’s secretary general, Stephen Cotton, said the institution has a long history of working with affiliated unions in the Philippines. He said ITF is committed to promote the importance and professionalism of Filipino seafarers in global shipping, and it will pursue this mission in its work with the IACGMA.

“The new advisory committee will be essential to ensure that Filipino seafarers maintain the highest standards working on ships across the globe in the future,” he said.

In reaction to the creation of the advisory council, the Danish ambassador to the Philippines, Franz-Michael Mellbin, in a Facebook post said Denmark is happy with Filipino seafarers.  According to reports, the Danish government has reaffirmed its support for the efforts of the Filipino maritime industry to comply with the international naval standards of the STCW.

Photo credit: iStock/ Igor-Kardasov

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