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EC grants PH extra time, but issues stern warning


   MAY 2014

The country is not out of the woods yet; the threat still looms.

Although the European Union (EU) has reached a positive albeit temporary solution to the Philippine case, a subsequent official communication from the European Commission contains stern warning.

Earlier, European Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Zeneida Angara Collinson of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) disclosed that the Philippines obtained a favorable decision from the Committee on Safe Seas and the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (COSS) “not to pass final judgment” on the country’s implementation of the STCW Convention.

ASec. Collinson made the disclosure during the Maritime Summit organized by Angkla partylist Rep. Jesulito Manalo at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati City last April 25, just two days after the COSS 32nd meeting where it reached a decision to give more time for the country to address the issues raised by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

The DFA official attributed the constructive decision to the initiative of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario last year when he directed all Philippine ambassadors posted in EU countries “to launch a sustained and broad-based diplomatic offensive to stave off European withdrawal of recognition” of Philippine-issued STCW certificates to Filipino seafarers.

ASec. Collinson said the potential loss of jobs for thousands of Filipino seafarers is the reason why the secretary and the nation’s envoys in EU “did not hesitate to vigorously solicit support from European governments to give the Philippines the additional time it needs to implement the reforms in the country’s maritime educational system.”

In a DFA statement released on May 8, she said the decision adopted by COSS on April 23, will now allow MARINA to concentrate on its consolidation of STCW-related functions under R.A. No. 10635 or the new MARINA Law.

The overall assessment of the Philippine system of training and certification of seafarers was one of the agenda of the COSS meeting in Brussels, according to a document obtained by Seaway that contains the highlights of the meeting.


Overall assessment 

The COSS has recognized the government’s “serious efforts” to implement corrective measures that “resulted in progress” in several aspects of the STCW Convention.

It says: “It appears that the Philippine authorities have made serious efforts to bring their system in line with the requirements of the STCW Convention. 

These efforts, which were intensified specifically during the last two years, resulted in progress being made in several areas, notably with regard to the following:

(i) to the implementation of a quality standards system by the administration and the maritime education and training institutions  

(ii) to the programs for operational and ancillary training being aligned with the Manila Amendments  

(iii) to guidance being issued by the administration for the implementation of onboard training  (iv) to steps being taken to avoid potential conflict of interest between those conducting monitoring of maritime education and training institutions and the institutions themselves and between those conducting assessment of competence and the candidates

In spite of this progress, the COSS noted that the Philippine authorities still need to prove through relevant documentary evidence that any outstanding issue regarding the above has been addressed. 

“Thorough implementation will need to be verified again through an inspection,” it adds. 

At the same time, however, the COSS also persisted in raising a number of serious concerns.


Continuing concerns

The document pointed to at least three issues that need to be decisively resolved. The main and most serious concern is on the veracity of the administration’s monitoring of maritime education and training (MET) providers. 

In particular, it says that “although the authorities had presented monitoring plans that appeared to be feasible and viable, there are concerns if these plans are actually being carried out and if the deficiencies identified during these audits are being followed up.”

It also brought out the issue of the government’s apparent lack of technical people, on one hand, and the country’s numerous MET providers, on the other.  

“It is important that the authorities demonstrate that they have all the necessary technical qualified human resources in order to monitor the high number of maritime education and training institutions operated in the Philippines,” the COSS points out. 

To this concern, however, the COSS has encouraged EU members to continue assisting local authorities in developing the needed capacity in monitoring MET providers. 


 Management level courses

ANOTHER area of concern is the management level courses (MLC). COSS is not convinced that the curricula for MLC covered all the necessary competencies required for operational as well as management officers.

“This is important as it was not possible to establish that the subjects of the BS programs that allegedly cover management level competencies incorporate, expand and extend in depth the subjects listed in the tables of competence for officers at the operational level as required by Sections A-II/2.2 and A-III/2.2 of the STCW Code so that, together with the MLC, the required competencies are, for management level officers, fully covered,” it observes.

It also called the government’s attention on the lack of training equipment that includes simulators among MET providers which, it says, “does not seem enough to allow the students to practice the number of hours established in the curriculum.”

“EU member-states might be willing to assist by means of technical assistance and cooperation in this area, too,” suggests the document.


Conclusion

THE COSS said it would relay this assessment to Philippine authorities and ask them to take remedial actions for the remaining shortcomings and to provide the necessary documentary evidence of their compliance.  

“The (Philippine) authorities will be invited to report regularly on the progress made,” it says.

Furthermore, it says: “Another EMSA inspection will be carried out after the start of the academic year 2014-2015 to verify that the remaining shortcomings have been addressed.”

The tentative schedule of the EMSA inspection was scheduled on September 29-October 3, 2014.

The COSS also invited Philippine authorities to consider bringing the matter to the attention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for a possible independent evaluation that could facilitate further technical assistance from the international community that could help to foster the implementation of the necessary changes.

Finally, the COSS concludes: “Progress has been noted; however, the Philippine authorities need to provide the necessary proof that all issues have been addressed and full implementation of the STCW Convention has been accomplished in order to maintain the EU recognition.”

However, about three weeks after the Angkla-organized Maritime Summit, a new communication from the EC’s Directorate General for Mobility and Transport (DGMOVE) gave the country only until July 2014 to comply with the STCW 2010 Manila Amendments of the Convention and the Code.


An ultimatum?

IN another document, which Seaway happens to get hold of, the DGMOVE also reiterated that “progress has been noted, (but) there are still serious concerns” on the country’s compliance with the Manila Amendments.

Further, in what appeared to be an ultimatum, the Philippine authorities should have submitted by “July 21, 2014, at the latest, all necessary evidence to demonstrate that all issues have been fully addressed,” says the document signed by DGMOVE Director General Fotis Karamitsos.

Failure to resolve any remaining issue may result in the loss of EU recognition of Philippine-issued STCW certificates.

A reliable source said the fresh warning was discussed during the recent meeting of the Coordinating Committee on STCW Concerns held at the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) last May14. The committee, chaired by MARINA, is composed of key officials from the DFA, Professional Regulation Commission, Department of Health, Commission on Higher Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and National Telecommunications Commission. 

Because of the new deadline, MARINA has no choice but to hold marathon meetings in order to complete the Implementing Rules and Regulations of HB 10635 or the new MARINA Law. In that meeting, the committee set May 30, 2014 as the deadline for the IRR, said a Seaway source who was privy to the meeting.

Because of this new development, MARINA has to reset its timeline for the IRR, which is seen as critical in addressing the issues raised by EMSA. MARINA had earlier set to complete the job in the first week of July 2014.

When asked about the reason for the new date, the source said European maritime authorities expressed concern that the outcome of the coming EU elections might not favor the Philippine side.  

Elected officials may not be as sympathetic to the Philippines as the current EC officials. The election is scheduled on May 22-25, 2014.

The question now is: Will the Philippine authorities be able to deliver without hitch, this time?


 
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