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Phl to block EU decision withdrawing certification rights for Pinoy seafarers

- Pia Lee-Brago -

BRUSSELS – The Philippines is bent on preventing at all costs a decision by the European Union (EU) to withdraw certification rights for over 240,000 Filipino seafarers from vessels registered in any EU member state if it feels the level of training and non-compliance issues are still not addressed by the country.

The EU is expected to make the decertification next month.

Sources said a visit of President Aquino to this EU capital was likely before the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) announces the decision on the report.

Sources added Aquino is expected to bring the reply of the Philippine government on the investigation they conducted in 2009 that will show that the country is seriously addressing the concerns relating to maritime training of Filipino seamen and help prevent an unfavorable decision.

The EU may issue a directive to prevent European ships from carrying over 240,000 Filipino seafarers deployed on board EU-flagged ships to enter and dock in EU territorial waters.

Aquino’s visit to Belgium and the EU and addressing the EU Parliament will help “reload” relations and engagement with the EU and the Belgian government.

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy has a standing invitation for Aquino to visit the EU.

Aquino is also welcome to speak before the EU Parliament.

Sources said Aquino’s visit is an opportunity to show the EU that the Philippines is seriously implementing measures after the investigation on the Philippines’ non-compliance to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW Convention).

The EC conveyed to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) the results of its inspection done in the Philippines in March 2006, specifically on the Philippines’ possible non-compliance to the STCW Convention.

In a letter dated Feb. 27, 2009, Fotis Karamitsos, Director for Maritime Transport of then EC DG for Energy and Transport (now DG Move-Mobility and Transport), conveyed to then DOTC Undersecretary and Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) head Elena Bautista the results of the inspection conducted by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) in the Philippines in March 2006.

The inspection was concerning national procedures and facilities relating to the implementation of the STCW Convention.

The STCW convention is transposed into EU law by way of Directive 2008/106/EC on the minimum level of training of seafarers, which provides for a European system for the recognition by the EU member states of certificates issued by third countries.

The results of this March 2006 inspection reflected a possible non-compliance by the Philippines of the STCW, particularly in the aspects of quality standards system, monitoring of maritime education and training institutions.

EC-RELEX (now EAS) explained to BPM that although there is no watchlist like air carriers, “the EU can withdraw certification rights for Filipino seafarers, if non-compliance issues are not addressed. The EU may issue a directive to prevent ships from carrying Filipino seafarers and docking in EU territorial waters.”

With the inspection results and the procedure that must follow as provided for in the EC Directive, DG TREN had requested DOTC to provide by May 15, 2009 its response and to substantiate any corrective measures undertaken by the Philippines to address the deficiencies in the STCW’s implementation.

If no response was given, further investigations were to take place, but eventually Philippine seafarers can lose their certification to work on board vessels registered in any EU member state.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)-Maritime Training Council (MTC) officially made the response last May 22, 2009.

DG TREN confirmed the communication to then head of the EC Delegation to the Philippines Ambassador Alistair McDonald that it was currently evaluating MTC’s May 22 response.

Also explained in this communication was that EU recognition of seafarers concerned remains valid for as long as they hold the same function.

Any upgrading to a higher qualification can only be endorsed by the EU member states if the additional education and training is provided by a country which complies with the STCW Convention.

It was pointed out though that non-recognition comes at the very last stage, ultimately to raise seafarers’ competencies to ensure shipping operations.

McDonald, in his letter to DOLE, with attention to then DOLE Undersecretary Romeo Lagman, as MTC presiding chairman on Dec. 21 2009, conveyed DG TREN’s request for a follow-up inspection by EMSA from Feb. 1-20 last year to allow a further evaluation of the corrective measures notified to the commission, as well as an on-the-spot examination of the outstanding issues.

Deficient training

EMSA experts visited Manila in April last year that included visits to the Maritime Training Council (MTC), Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Among the maritime schools inspected were the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA), Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI), University of Cebu, Universityof the Visayas, and the Palompon Institute of Technology.

Two training centers, in connection with the implementation of the Management Level Courses, namely: Excellence and Competency Training Center (EXACT) and Internship Navigation Training Center were also inspected.

According to the report dated April 29, 2010 submitted to then Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, the EMSA team announced the results of their verification.

Their findings were generally favorable since the government agencies and the maritime schools visited have significantly taken the corrective actions for the deficiencies reported in 2006.

The only negative finding was with PMI with six deficiencies reported.

Only one corrective action was found acceptable, but the five others remain as outstanding deficiencies which need to be promptly corrected.

Based on the CHED report, PMI was among the original 15 maritime schools identified by EMSA to be deficient.

CHED said the PMI courses, BS Marine Transportation (BSMT) and BS Marine Engineering (BSMarE) had been ordered closed due to several noted deficiencies found since school year 2006-2007, which had not been corrected up to the first closure order served on PMI last May.

“To show we are doing something, two courses were closed by PMI. The EU was happy with the closure but they are still studying our report on their investigation and findings. This is also the reply and report to their inquiries on the different schools they investigated from 2006-2009,” a source from the Philippine embassy here said.

Sources said the EU is also concerned about the integrity of diploma from maritime schools in the country, a “single certifying agency and strong oversight functions on Philippine side.”

Director General Matthias Ruete sent a letter last May 6 to former Philippine ambassador to Belgium Enrique Manalo informing the Philippine Mission of the results of the European Commission/EMSA’s second assessment of Philippine compliance to the STCW on the basis of inspections conducted by EU experts in April 2010.

The letter contained annexes which outline the deficiencies on various aspects of maritime training and EU’s assessment of the measures taken thus far by the concerned Philippines agencies (government and private training institutions).

DGMOVE advised that Philippine authorities submit a reply to the letter of Ruete, listing the corrective measures that have been put in place or which the relevant agencies intend to put in place to address the deficiencies mentioned.

It was also advised that the information to be submitted be supported with factual evidence for it to be considered for further assessment.

Manalo sent a reply letter to Ruete informing him that any decision/measure that EU might take could have economic and political implications to the Philippines.

The Philippines submitted its official reply to the DG-MOVE in August 2011.

The relevant offices and agencies are aware of the serious repercussions if the follow-up inspection of EMSA yielded negative results. As in other areas, negative findings from the follow-up inspection may probably redound to EU offering financial or technical assistance for the Philippines to address the identified deficiencies to the STCW Convention.

DG-MOVE’s position, that “EU non-recognition” of concerned seafarers would come at the very last stage presumably when all possible recourses have been exhausted, can be construed to indicate EC’s willingness to cooperate towards preventing such an occurrence.

The Philippines plays an important role in the global maritime industry as a leading supplier of seafarers. Filipino seafarers are widely valued for their competence and skills that are positive indication of the general quality of maritime education and training in the country.

Filipino seafarers contribute significantly to the growth and sustenance of the Philippine economy.

For the period 2006-2009, a total of 234,267 Filipino seafarers were deployed on board EU-flagged ships. In 2009 alone, a total of 79,111 Filipino seafarers were deployed on EU ships and this represents 24 percent of the total deployed seafarers for that year.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) showed that from January to April of this year, Filipino seafarers have funneled in $1.3 billion in remittances representing a 6 percent increase for the same period last year.

In 2010, remittances of seafarers reached $3.8 billion, accounting for 20 percent of the total remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that year. Seafarer remittances are projected to grow by an average of 12 percent each year.

AQUINO

DEFICIENCIES

EMSA

FILIPINO

MARITIME

PHILIPPINE

PHILIPPINES

SEAFARERS

STCW

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