World's best crew? Bill aims to avoid blacklist on PH seafarers
MANILA, Philippines – Known as the world’s leading supplier of seafarers, the Philippines may ironically be on the blacklist of the European Union (EU) unless a bill reforming the industry is passed.
Senate President Franklin Drilon sponsored a measure that aims to prevent the blacklisting by consolidating training and certification functions under one agency: the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA).
In his sponsorship speech on Tuesday, December 17, Drilon said the bill will help the Philippines comply with the 2010 Manila Amendments to the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers or the STCW Convention.
“At present, our seafarers have to go through the cumbersome process of undergoing training and securing certification from various government agencies…. The bill seeks to consolidate all STCW functions in MARINA, and in effect establish a ‘one-stop shop’ where the training and certification requirements under the STCW Convention shall be processed.”
Drilon stressed the urgency of passing the bill and warned about the impact of a possible blacklist on the economy and the country’s standing in the industry.
“We stand to lose our position of leadership in maritime manpower,” Drilon said.
“We have to remember that remittances from sea-based workers – which reached $5 billion in 2012 and for this year alone, is already worth $1.2 billion – keep our economy afloat by fueling domestic consumption, preventing foreign exchange instability, and serving as a buffer against inflation of the peso.”
The Senate President said that of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers, Filipinos comprise almost 400,000 or a quarter of the officers and crews. Of this number, 100,000 Filipino seafarers are estimated to be working onboard European-flagged vessels. The EU has 28 member states.
“Our seafarers face an imminent threat that, if not addressed urgently, will in all likelihood capsize our maritime industry,” Drilon said.
Prevent confusion, align policies
Drilon said the measure is in response to the “below par assessment” by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), an EU agency charged with reducing the risk of maritime accidents, marine pollution from ships, and the loss of lives at sea.
The Senate leader said that EMSA, in its April 2013 audit, was dissatisfied over the “disconnect” between the standards MARINA set and those established by other agencies.
MARINA supervises the different agencies. These bodies include the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the health department, and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
“The passage into law of this proposed measure would address the most recurrent observations made by the EMSA auditors over the years such as:
- the confusion brought about the fragmentation of STCW functions among numerous agencies in the Philippines, and
- the concomitant challenges that come with such a situation in fully aligning the policies of the different agencies involved with each other."
Drilon pushed for the quick passage of the bill while EMSA is still preparing its audit report based on its October 2013 visit to the Philippines. He said the agency will welcome inputs from the Philippines until January 2014 before publishing the report.
“The swift passage of this will certainly translate to a significant boost in our country’s chances at positively influencing the outcome of the report.”
Drilon said the bill enjoys the support of MARINA and industry stakeholders who attended hearings on the measure.
‘No blacklisting of PH seafarers’
Reports citing anonymous EU officials have warned that “the clock is ticking” for the Philippines, saying the country should have been blacklisted since last year.
Yet Vice President Jejomar Binay has said that the EU will not blacklist Filipino seafarers. Binay is the Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Concerns.
Last July, Binay said the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines assured him that the EU has no plans of blacklisting the country. He reiterated this in a September speech commemorating the 18th National Seafarers Day in Manila.
MARINA administrator Maximo Mejia Jr though said the Philippines must work on complying with international maritime standards.
Mejia said in July that the Philippines developed a national quality standard system on maritime education, certification, and training but this has yet to be tested.
“Our training for the most part meets the standard. But since we have a lot of training centers, training programs and college programs related to maritime, we also have too many programs of low quality or substandard, that’s the underlying problem,” Mejia said.
The MARINA chief said the Philippines must focus on ensuring schools and training centers comply with the standards.
“Our seafarers are really good, but we have to back that before the international community,” he said. – Rappler.com