The STCW phenomenon continues..

BY  An exception to the general perception that the Philippine maritime industry does not receive the muchneeded attention it deserves as one potent tool for economic development in this archipelago is in respect to the STCW implementation.

STCW refers to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978, as amended, which was adopted primarily to promote safety of life at sea and the protection of the marine environment. Said convention sets the global criteria by which a seafarer’s competence and qualification to serve on board ships navigating in international waters is gauged. The STCW is a multilateral maritime agreement that provides ship owners, government, shippers and the general public that level of confidence that ships are properly operated by competent crew, and therefore could safely ferry passengers and cargoes to their port of destination, and that these ships do not pollute the marine environment and the atmosphere.

The STCW significantly altered the centuries-old merchant shipping career in that training and certification anywhere else in the world must conform with the requirements stipulated in the convention. It prescribes the minimum training and certification requirements of one who wishes to become part of a ship’s crew. Of utmost importance for developing countries, the STCW conventionleveled the playing field as seafarers who are trained and certificated in these countries can now compete with those coming from the developed maritime countries provided they acquire the competency prescribed by the said convention.

The country’s implementation of the STCW immediately followed the Philippine accession to the convention in 1984 premised as it was on the desire to maintain its position as the premier supplier of seafarers to the world’s fleet. Even at that time, marketing Filipino shipboard labor was the main consideration in implementing the convention, understandably as the adoption of the STCW came at a time when Filipino seafarers were getting to be known as good alternative to the high-paying seafarers from developed maritime countries. Their competence, skills, industry and English proficiency, among others were getting the attention of ship owners and with the added bonus that they are paid less.

The employment opportunities for Filipino seafarers was an attractive and welcome option for a country with a growing population and with less jobs to offer; therefore, labor consideration figured prominently in developing policies and regulations in the implementation of the STCW convention. Letter of Instruction (LOI) 1404 issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1984 made no reference to maritime safety and environment protection except as to cite these in the preambular clause as the twin objectives of the STCW convention. Thus, LOI 1404 laid down the reasons for the country’s adhering to the convention, i.e. to be able to deploy Filipino seafarers on board international trading ships. It is therefore of no surprise that the said presidential issuance vested on the Ministry of Labor and Employment all STCW-related functions.

In 1986, government re-organization was adopted which resulted in the alignment of functions based on a rational and clear determination of related functions to avoid redundancy and streamline the delivery of services to the public. Executive Order 125/125-A lumped the issuance of certificates to seafarers under the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), except those for merchant marine officers which remained the function of the Philippine Regulation Commission.

Since then, there was the protracted struggle between maritime agencies and labor-focused agencies on which of them should act as the “administration” for the STCW implementation. It was like an all or nothing turf war, to the detriment of the seafarers whose interest they were supposed to promote. The core mandates of the maritime safety agencies and the labor agencies are in fact complementary with distinct areas of concern, yet all of them remained adamant in claiming the title of “administration.”

It took three decades to settle the issue of which agency should take the lead in the implementation of the STCW with the enactment of Republic Act (RA) No. 10635. Said legislation designated MARINA as the single maritime administration in the implementation of the STCW convention. RA 10635 puts to rest that long-standing question of which agency is in charge… but not quite. Several bills now filed in Congress propose to pluck the STCW functions from MARINA.

It is interesting to know who the proponents are and why they are pushing for such transfer…

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