The Philippines is set to shut down several maritime training bodies to avert a European Union threat to derecognise new certificates issued in the country.
The government has already closed three such establishments and a leading agent placing Filipino nationals with European shipowners told Lloyd’s List that the threat of ban had receded, with signs that the question will soon be resolved.
The Philippines has long been the world’s number-one labour supplier to the international shipping market. According to some estimates, the country produces 280,000 graduates a year, with 220,000 of them at sea at any one time.
However, recent years have brought growing concern about standards in Training, Certification and Watchkeeping observance. The issue was highlighted with the recent grounding of the Filipino-crewed boxship Rena in New Zealand, in which seafarer error may have played a part.
“Part of the solution is going to be agreement by the government to close a number of schools. There are going to be more casualties, I am sure,” the agent said.
“At first you might see some deadlines put on some schools to meet the requirements. But I am sure that the issue will be revisited and I am equally sure that most of the schools will not be able to meet the requirements.
“So over a period of time, in order to satisfy Europe and to make the problem go away altogether, I would see up to a dozen schools being closed.”
The Lisbon-based European Maritime Safety Agency inspected local schools in 2010 and sent its report to the European Commission. Although EMSA has refused to make its findings public, it is understood to have recommended withdrawal of recognition of Filipino STCW certificates unless the issue is resolved.
The commission is due to announce the results of its deliberations shortly, which could have huge implications for labour supply on EU-flagged vessels.
Sources aware of the situation say that member states are divided between those that want to take steps to force the Philippines to raise its game and those more worried about the disruption that sanctions would cause.
“All sides are working to resolving this now without the threat of some ban,” the agent said. “Europe has come to terms with the fact that the Philippines is trying to do something about this, and has also come to terms with the impracticality of implementing a ban, which would be very difficult indeed.”
The obvious precedent for this situation is Georgia. Two years ago, it had recognition for its STCW certificates withdrawn. But there is widespread recognition that the Philippines is effectively too big to fail and that similar strictures would be unworkable.
The problem is that, as the rules stand, the commission has only the sledgehammer option of refusing to recognise all new Filipino seafarers. Existing mechanisms make it impossible to single out training establishments case by case.
International Maritime Employers’ Committee secretary Giles Heimann said: “The Philippines government has been actively vetting schools and any schools that are not up to scratch they are shutting down. The number of schools that they may close is a matter of conjecture at the moment.”
The authorities moved to close three seafarer schools in the country last year. November saw major protests in Manila and Quezon City, where up to 13,000 students were told two weeks after enrolling that the BS Marine Engineering and BS Marine Transport degree courses would close.
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ Maritime Training Council of the Department of Labour and Employment is revising the the content of many courses to meet requirements of the so-called Manila amendments to STCW agreed in 2010 and due to be implemented by 2017.
Among the changes are mandatory limits on alcohol consumption and a requirement for seafarers to rest for at least 10 hours in every 24-hour period.