In November 2010, the European Commission’s stopped recognising STCW certificates issued by Georgia. The derecognition came about after the European Maritime Safety Agency’s inspected the Georgian system in 2006 and 2010, and after Georgian attempts to rectify identified shortcomings was considered ‘inadequate’. The EU’s action meant that sailors who were STCW certified in Georgia after the derecognition could no longer be employed on EU flagged vessels. This was the first time the EC had derecognised STCW certificates anywhere, although Filipino, Turkish and Moroccan inspections had thrown up similar deficiencies.
After the EC ban, the entire Georgian maritime administration was fired. The country’s President, Mikheil Saakashvili, said at the time, “Now you see what type of results could be brought by someone’s incompetence, laziness, corruptness and crime”
Georgia is-compared to the Philippines- a relatively minor seafarer supplier, even though a disproportionate number of Georgians work on EU vessels. But now comes another warning from the Europeans, this time to the Philippines, and despite Filipinos accounting for 47% of the non-EU seafarer workface in Europe. It is believed that the authorities in the Philippines, home to roughly a third of global seafarer supply, have been served notice by the EC in early May; they have been given till the end of August to put their house in order or face possible STCW derecognition from the EC. Deficiencies are alleged to be, according to one report, “in the areas of functioning of the maritime administration, insufficient quality procedures, insufficient monitoring of schools, inaccurate approval and review of courses, the level and quality of training, the poor quality of inspection of maritime education and training institutes and insufficient qualifications of instructors and assessors”.
They could be talking about India instead of the Philippines.
Ignore, for a moment, the fact that I think the entire STCW regime needs a major revamp, one that the (new! improved!) STCW 2010 has failed to do; all the STCW 2010 does is promote more of the same old assembly line driven substandard drivel where the aim of the exercise seems to be for regulators to peddle influence, institutes to make money and sailors to get a piece of paper at the end of it all. My final argument in favour of a major STCW revamp is this: the STCW regime has presided, over the last twenty years, almost, over a gradual decaying of seafarer standards. It’s basis- and/or its implementation - is flawed somewhere. Or everywhere.
The symbiotic relationship between labour supplying countries and ship-owners is what is at stake with this latest EC threat. For what the Commission is really saying is this: that seafarer standards have fallen to a level where the EU will risk a major disruption in labour supply- or at least threaten to- unless training standards are raised.
It is possible that the Georgian ban was a shot across the bows of the maritime training businesses and connected regulators across the world. It is equally possible that no eventual ban on Filipino seafarers- a much larger workforce than the Georgians- will eventually materialise. Maybe the recent industry alarm at the reversal of hitherto declining marine accident statistics has something to do with all this, or maybe the Europeans really mean business this time. There has been increased pressure on airlines and shipping to conform to stricter environmental regimes in Europe: maybe the STCW tightening is part of a broader picture.
Or maybe not. Maybe India can continue its lethargic training and education regime for a few years more without being either blacklisted or informally devalued. Perhaps fears of a threatened Indian STCW derecognition should not be overstated. There are signs that the Philippines is taking the warning seriously, though: Last week, their Commission of Higher Education issued ‘cease and desist’ orders to institutes that ‘do not comply with quality standards and whose graduates fare miserably in licensure examinations,” according to one report. Maritime and nursing institutes are being targeted first, according to the Head of the Commission.
I say that India must get its maritime education act together not because it wants to stay recognised or increase seafarer market share. That is putting the cart before the horse. India must get its act together because the pride of this nation, with its maritime history going back five thousand years, is at stake- and because that is the right thing to do. Besides, if India can, once again, produce seafarers of quality, then the rest- certification and approvals included- will automatically follow. The main dish is the product: the rest is a sideshow.
We are a long way from there, though. We have a system that is overridden with inertia, corruption, influence-peddling and worse. The head of the premier Indian Maritime University is today being investigated by the (equally premier) Central Bureau of Investigation for corruption. In recent times, well known ex-officials of the Directorate General of Shipping have been taken to court by individuals for alleged activities that I am ashamed to mention here. Another legal suit has questioned the very mandate of the Board of Seafarers’ Trust, set up by the DGS, to conduct post-training exit examinations for ratings. Small wonder that at least my confidence in the present system remains shaky.
There are major systemic and non-systemic issues that plague the MET business in India. The first step must be the promotion of clean efficiency from the regulators; in the present free-for-all self serving atmosphere, one can safely assume that the promotion of quality remains low on the agenda, and that monitoring of individual training institutes suffers considerably as a result. A regulatory regime hollowed out by malpractice- and under attack to boot- is hardly in the best position to promote quality. We need to fix that first. Monitoring training institutes and the rest of the seafarer factory becomes so much easier if the regulatory regime functions as it is supposed to.
You know, Vasco Da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea, is believed to have hired an Indian pilot at the port of Malindi- now in Kenya- to make the perilous crossing from East Africa to the Malabar Coast of western India. They reached Calicut in May 1498 after taking 23 days to cross the Indian Ocean. (On the way back, the explorer, presumably without the Indian pilot available, took 3 months, with so many of his crew dying of scurvy that one of the ships was burnt at the same Malindi for lack of crew).
It would be black irony indeed, if today, more than five hundred years later, another European was to tell us that Indian sailors are now substandard and cannot work on European ships anymore.