EU drops proposed ban on Filipino seafarers over lack of training Seafarers News

EC has agreed not to proceed with a proposal from Filipino seafarers (file photo)

Published March 31, 2023 12:31 by

The Maritime Executive

The European Commission has agreed to continue to recognize seafarers’ certificates issued by the Philippines, despite ongoing concerns about the quality of education private schools provide to seafarers. The Philippine government, supported by a number of maritime organizations, has been able to adequately address concerns from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) over the country’s training and certification standards, with the EU promising further technical support to improve programs for these key members of the shipping community.

The problem, which has long simmered in the maritime world, came to the fore last year after EMSA issued a report examining deficiencies in the country’s training and certification standards. The agency updated its list of concerns from an effort dating back to 2006, when it first identified what it believed were significant problems in the training programs. EMSA’s report indicated that the training and qualifications in the Philippine seafaring training institutions fell short of the guidelines of the International Convention on Training, Competency and Watchkeeping Standards for Seafarers.

The European Commission has informed the Philippines that unless serious action is taken, the recognition of their seafarers’ certificates would be withdrawn. The proposed measure would have covered all vessels flying the European Union flag and banned them from entering into new employment contracts with Filipinos. Existing certificates would have been recognized until they expired, but Filipino seafarers would not have been allowed to apply with new or renewed certificates on EU-flagged ships.

The Philippine government responded with a range of measures, including the personal intervention of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who met with European Union officials and assured them of his country’s commitment to addressing the issues and complying with European regulations. The effort was also raised in talks between EU President Ursula von der Leyen and President Marcos during the EU-ASEAN Summit in December 2022.

“We appreciate the constructive cooperation with the Philippine authorities and applaud their efforts to improve the system for seafarers’ training and certification,” said Transport Commissioner Adina V?lean when announcing the decision to continue recognizing the certificates. “The Philippines can count on our technical assistance to further improve the implementation and monitoring of the minimum requirements for education, training and certification, as well as living and working conditions.”

The shipping community also rose to support the Philippines, while stressing that the country is one of the largest sources of seafarers. The European Community Shipowners’ Association and the International Chamber of Shipping estimate that Filipino seafarers make up at least 14 per cent of the world’s labor force, while the European Commission notes that around 50,000 Filipino captains and officers currently work on EU-flagged ships. Concerns have been made particularly acute by the ongoing shortage of seafarers, as well as the war in Ukraine affecting the supply of Ukrainian and Russian seafarers, two other nations that have contributed to the labor force in the past.

“European shipowners welcome the recognition of the Philippines’ training and certification system. We congratulate the country on its commitment and thorough response to the shortcomings identified by the Commission,” said ECSA Secretary General Sotiris Raptis. “This is a positive development as Filipino seafarers play a central role in European shipping and keep European trade flowing.”

President Marcos had discussed setting up an advisory board as one of the proposed steps. In January 2023, the new Advisory Committee was established to provide expert advice on major maritime issues affecting Filipino seafarers. ECSA and ICS joined the effort along with other organizations representing seafarers, shipowners and other maritime employers and the government of the Philippines. The newly formed International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs (IACGMA) will continue to work with the Philippines and advise on key issues to ensure standards of training and certification are met.

“By all working together on these issues, we can address the challenges facing our workforce. Maintaining seafarer training standards worldwide ensures a brighter future for our seafarers,” says ICS Secretary General Guy Platten. “As a major seafaring nation, Filipino seafarers are an important and valued part of the seafaring workforce. This decision by the European Commission is a testament to the Philippines’ hard work to ensure seafarers’ training is compliant.”

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