By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) is scrambling to avoid EU’s withdrawal of recognition of Philippine competency by addressing gaps and deficiencies in the country’s maritime education amid a declining deployment overseas of Filipino seafarers.
Data presented at the Philippine Maritime Industry Forum – Current Trends and Challenges organized by the Nordic Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines showed deployment of Filipino seafarers went down to 300,000 in 2017 from 400,000 in 2016.
Newly appointed Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Rey Leonardo B. Guererro explained to reporters at the sidelines of the event that the decline in deployment can be traced to slower offshore demand, which relates to slower business in the oil infrastructure business overseas.
While Guerrero said that this may not be directly related to the quality of the competitiveness of the country’s seafarer graduates, he also did not discount the possibility that the decline has something to do with the educational gaps and deficiencies identified by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which has been conducting audits of the Philippines since 2006.
“There are gaps and deficiencies particularly on maritime education which is related to standards, training, certification and watchkeeping,” said Guerrero. The Philippines is a signatory to the International Convention on Standards, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), which sets minimum qualification standards for master, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant vessels.
Failure to address the outstanding issues raised and adopted by the European Commission in its assessment of Philippine maritime education, training and certification system will affect the continuous employment of Filipino Masters and Officers who are currently recognized by the EU member states.
EMSA though has given the country until October 31 this year to show proof that the concerns, gaps and deficiencies identified in its report have been addressed.
“We cannot say we are at risk, but we have to take seriously the findings,” said Guererro adding that Filipino seafarers have to complete all the requirements to be competitive.
But failure may result in adverse action of the EU to withdraw recognition of Certificate of Competencies issued by the Philippines said Guererro in his presentation at the forum.
Based on the Seafarers’ Statistics in the EU, published by EMSA on August 29, 2017, there are 33,966 Masters and Officers holding Certificate of Competency (COC) issued by the Philippines that are recognized by the EU member states.
“Being a maritime labor-supplying nation in all capacities and levels of responsibilities on board international seagoing ships, the withdrawal of EU’s for COCs, issued by the Philippines to its seafarers will surely have a domino effect in all aspects and sectors of the maritime industry domestically and internationally,” said Guerrero. Dollar remittances by Filipino seamen reached $5.9 billion in 2017.
In March this year, EMSA released its comments and findings on the audit it conducted early in the year. The findings listed a number of outstanding issues or “shortcomings” related to the trainings and certifications of schools and graduates.
According to Guererro, there are 65 accredited providers of maritime education in the country where some are still found with deficiencies and needs improvement to comply with EMSA requirements. But there are also schools that are still new in offering maritime education and are still building up their capabilities, he noted.
The number of maritime schools though has gone down from more than 100 since others had stopped offering or phased out the course.
Some circulars need to be updated, and improvement in school facilities, training and equipment, said Guererro.
In particular, these issues are related to requirements for certifications, maritime administration, quality management system, policies and procedures, program and courses approval, monitoring, assessment of competence, among others.
As such, Marina has submitted on April 27 this year to the EU Commission the measures and commitments put in place or to be put in place. Marina has also created a task force to monitor and ensure compliance among schools.
All maritime training institutions are given 6 months to align all their course packages and Marina will conduct re-inspection within the given timeframe to ensure compliance.
Various proposed STCW circulars on examination, assessment of competence and certification of Master and Officers, including revalidation of certification are also undergoing review by the legal team and STCW Advisory Council as a new addition in the revised quality procedures manual on preparation and approval of STCW circulars in compliance with EC assessment report.
For instance, Guererro said there were 25,000 graduates from maritime schools last year but they cannot be deployed immediately as they still have to complete their SCTW certifications, including the shipboard training. There have been shipping companies providing apprenticeship to graduates but there are not enough vessels to accommodate these graduates.
Guererro said that Marina is also working with the Commission on Higher Education in revising the circular on Monitoring of Maritime Education and the alignment of school’s curriculum as mandated. The joint circular will be implemented for calendar year 2018-2019.