Vitaly Klyuyev: “Seafarers training system in Russia complies with international standards”

The system of training and certification of seafarers in Russia has been brought into compliance with the international requirements. Major efforts of the Transport Ministry and other ad hoc agencies have lead up to that. In his interview with IAA PortNews, Vitaly Klyuyev, Director of RF Transport Ministry’s Department of State Policy for Maritime and River Transport, tells about training of shipboard personnel and about changes in the system of industry-specific education.

– Mr Klyuyev, could you, please, tell about the system of training seafarers in Russia and major activities of the Transport Ministry in this sphere? What is the most important thing you would emphasize today?

– The most important thing is to recognize the simple fact: our industry-focused educational institutions should be not process- but result-oriented. Who are those we are training? We should train seafarers. What is a seafarer is described by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW, with Manila amendments) and by the STCW Code, which supplements the Convention. They set forth the requirements for seafarers of different specializations. Our task is to build a system for training seafarers so that they comply with international standards at any step of their carriers.

In this respect, Russian Ministry of Transport has been doing a comprehensive and consistent work starting from 2009 when Manila amendments appeared on the horizon. We have performed regulatory and organizational activities that have shaped the current system of seafarers training in the Russian Federation. This system has been recently praised by the Secretary- General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) during his visit to Russia.

We have approved Regulations on Certification of Seafarers which specify requirements for each phase of their training: basic education, certification with/without qualification testing, navigation and practical training, upgrade training when being promoted and changing positions.

In compliance with the mentioned Convention we have also created a system for recognizing educational organizations’ right to train seafarers. This recognition is also the competence of the Transport Ministry. All educational organizations wishing their graduates be awarded with diplomas by a Harbour Master should obtain a recognition from the Ministry of Transport.

Moreover, we have elaborated requirements for simulator training and a mechanism for certification of simulator centers entitled to perform conventional training. In this respect, simulator centers should comply with the STCW Convention requirements and be recognized by the Federal Marine and River Transport Agency (Rosmorrechflot).

At last, we are completing our work on the document that formalizes requirements on minimum safe manning. When this document is issued – and we hope this happens very soon – the complete package of documents on training of seafarers will be available in the Russian Federation.

Besides, each educational organization or simulator center should have an effective Quality Management System to control conventional training of seafarers (which is required by STCW Convention). QMS effectiveness is to be confirmed through certification.

In line with the STCW Convention we have created a dedicated information system for a centralized record of diplomas and qualifying certificates issued at all levels of education.  Now, all data about of each seafarer training (diplomas, qualification testing, length of sea-going service) is entered into the information system.

Thus, the Russian Federation obtains a unified, comprehensive, structured and legally recognized system (a system indeed!) for training and upgrading seafarers starting from their entry to the educational institution and up to the end of their carrier.

– The system has been developed. Does it cover all spheres of seafarers’ education and work? What else should be done in this respect?

– There is a process underway. It is related to the health of seafarers and the issue has moved to an advanced phase. In fact, confirmation of the ability to work onboard a ship in any position is regulated by two international documents – STCW Convention and Maritime Labour Convention (Russia has acceded to both).

Together with the Ministry of Health we have developed a list of diseases which do not allow taking onboard positions. There was no list of that kind before. It has appeared only in 2017.

Two processes should be completed in this respect: to approve the medical survey procedure and a form of certificate and to issue a list of medical organizations allowed to perform those activities.

The first document has already been approved by the Ministry of Health. Yet, there is one question – who and when should undergo such a survey. Draft amendments into MMC have been submitted to the State Duma with the decision expected by the end of 2017.

– What measures have been undertaken in practical sphere?

– In December 2016, Transport Ministry and Rosmorrechflot started optimization of seafarers certification by seaports’ Harbour Masters. We began with Saint-Petersburg: the Diploma Department has moved to a new building with a convenient logistics where seafarers are provided with consulting services. We have set a task of decreasing the time seafarers spend there (15 minutes maximum). Earlier, seafarers had to apply in two months for submitting documents. The process of documents consideration could take up to a month and the entire process – 2-3 months. Now it takes 15 minutes to submit documents. Then, within 10 days, a seafarer is informed by sms about the diploma availability and it takes 15 minutes maximum to get the document.

It is not about a situation when qualification testing is required. Of course, they will take additional time. There are two phases in this case: computer tests and an interview. The testing can be held immediately after submitting an application – no virtual or actual queues or any pre-appointment.

All Diploma Departments of Harbour Masters’ Services at all ports of the Russian Federation offer similar arrangements. I have visited most of them personally.

Besides, if there is a confirmation of a seafarer’s self-education it is not necessary to undergo qualification testing or upgrading for diploma prolongation provided that the position is not changed.

So, by the end of 2017 we are going to complete a 10-year long cycle of developing the system for training, certification and assignment of seafarers.

– What about the distance learning?

– Together with Admiral Makarov State University of Maritime and Inland Shipping (Saint-Petersburg) we are holding an experiment: one of the programmes needed for diploma prolongation has been partly converted into distance learning.

We have also agreed with Ushakov Maritime State University to elaborate distance learning methods.

The problem is in the necessity to check the knowledge acquired through distance education since motivation is not the feature of everybody, not always. Anyway, final testing, or “finalization” is performed with personal attendance. The Convention expects the states awarding diplomas to make sure that seafarers have the required knowledge and skills – and we are obliged to do that.

– Does anybody control everything you have told about?

– The Convention foresees regular inspections (once in five years) by independent experts in all countries where training of seafarers is performed. IMO held such an inspection in Russia three years ago and acknowledged that the seafarers training system in the Russian Federation complies with the Convention. The next inspection will be held in two years.

In 2018, we are starting stress-testing of our system. Throughout the year we will be testing all elements of the training system: simulator centers, Diploma Departments of Harbour Master’s Offices, educational institutions, Ministry of Transport, Federal Marine and River Transport Agency and Federal Agency for Transport Supervision – all the elements will fall under this inspection.

I will ask the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping to perform this inspection and I hope for their consent. We will use the findings to correct our activities and will have an independent inspection in 2019.

– You inspected many industry focused educational institutions last year. What are the results?

– In some cases we issued recognition certificates for reduced periods: one year or two (normally they are issued for five years) and we continue this practice today. The main cause is non-compliance of training methods with the Convention requirements and with national legislation. For example, instructors at simulator centers can set tasks for trainee at their own sweet will. Instructors are different while the Convention demands a formalized approach. According to the Convention, before training starts a trainee should be informed about knowledge he is going to obtain during the process, and methods he is going to apply for obtaining that knowledge, as well as how that knowledge will be checked. In many cases, training was not systematic though it is required to meet the Convention.

Very often, Quality Management System for education was questionable: very frequently it was a package of papers having nothing to do with the Convention or life in general. However, the Quality Management System should describe real processes at a specific educational institution with all participants of the educational process aware of their rights, obligations and functions within a quality system.

Several years ago we made arrangements with IMO Secretary-General and Deputy Transport Minister of the Russian Federation to publish autographed copies of the STCW Convention. We held a ceremony of handing them over to the heads of major educational institutions with a wish to study them “from cover to cover”. When heads of educational institutions understand methods and ways of education that are not recommended but prescribed (!) by the Convention their personnel will come to that understanding as well as those providing training.

To be sure, that has brought certain results. All educational institutions we recognize feature a systematic educational process, fully complying with the Convention.

One more problem that used to cause reduced recognition is the arrangement of practical training. Quite often, apprenticeship was under complete control of students. Having received the assignments they had to look for a shipping company and to arrange practical training on their own. We have stopped that malpractice. Today, rectors and educational institutions are responsible for practical training of their students. The institutions should either provide their own facilities or sign agreements with shipping companies for arrangement of practical training. We control implementation of those agreements, not just papers, but through actual communication with the shipping companies which confirm or do not confirm practical training of certain students and cadets.

– What do shipping companies get from this?

– They get a future seafarer. The companies willing to stay in the market today and tomorrow are interested in such people. They can get future employees and bring them up straight from their student-days. For example, all shipboard personnel of Sovcomflot are Russian seafarers. The company is bringing them up to the pension. It is a normal practice, many shipping companies rely on it.

Unqualified labour force is also of use at ships and the companies get apprentices who are not paid or paid “lunch money”. We demand that after the first or, maximum, second year students could obtain a qualification of a sailor-man or an entry-level engineman allowing for being employed as a real crewmember.

– Is there a position of a captain-instructor?

– As of today, a position of a captain-instructor has disappeared. This function is currently performed by one of the officers who is assigned as a person responsible for practical training. This person is to have a required qualification and to confirm that the practical training programme is fulfilled. Having signed the final certificate that person takes responsibility.

– Do graduates of industry-focused institutions stay in the profession and in Russia? Is there any statistics?

– When asked if they stay in the profession I will say “Yes”. We demand that educational organizations conduct analyses of further employment and we pay attention to that when inspecting the institutions. It was quite unexpected for us to find out that almost 90% and more graduates (depending on different higher education institutions) stay in the profession.

As for their stay in Russia, we should take into consideration that domestic shipping companies are quite staffed. Wages of crewmembers, especially those of foreign shipping vessels, are comparable to wages offered by foreign companies. But I do not see any tragedy if a graduate with a Russian diploma is employed by a foreign ship – apart of earning money that would be brought to the Russian economy (since the family is here) he will get a different qualification. I do not mean that such qualification is better as compared with that obtained in Russia but it is different in terms of maritime culture, communication, globalization, cargo flows. Thus, we have a wider range of specialists for a practical reality in Russia. Shipping, as it is, is an international sphere and attempts to close international markets for our graduates will not do any good.

– Are there foreign students in our industry-focused educational institutions?

– There are foreign students but I would not say there are many of them – there is a lot to be done to this end. Today, we are traditionally focused on our partners of USSR times: Vietnam, Mongolia, Iran, India … But I think our educational organizations should have a wider footprint and involve developed countries in exchange of specialists. In this context, I would note that I expected language problems when IMO Secretary-General had a meeting with cadets. Yet, there were no problems and I even envied some of the cadets over their good English pronunciation. Both IMO Secretary-General and me were favorably impressed with that.