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Stakeholders slam 'irresponsible' news on maritime

Stakeholders slam 'irresponsible' news on maritime
Yashika F. Torib November 9, 2022

STAKEHOLDERS and leaders of the Philippine maritime industry slammed the "irresponsible" publication of local news materials which raised immediate global concerns from foreign shipping employers.

The commotion began last November 1 when one of the country's largest dailies published news quoting Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople as saying that the President (Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) has stripped the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) of its task of overseeing the implementation of Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) for seafarers.

It further reported that the President has delegated the task of coming up with an "implementation plan" to bring up the country's maritime training industry to international standards to the Department of Transportation, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Migrant Workers, Commission on Higher Education, and the Department of Labor and Employment.

This is after the country repeatedly failed to pass the European Maritime Safety Agency's (EMSA) evaluation in the past 16 years.

Ople denied making such statements and stressed that she was simply misquoted.

"The President never ordered Marina to be removed as an implementing agency nor did I ever say this in an interview," Ople said in a press statement.

The news article has since been corrected, but concerns among local and international maritime stakeholders immediately ensued.

"In a matter of minutes after the news was posted, I already received several questions from other parts of the world because of the impact and legality of the decision, if it were true," Christina Garcia, president of the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA) Maritime Group, said.

Garcia said the news of Marina being stripped of its functions on the training and assessment of seafarers was immediately circulated to the group's members.

"It is such a disappointment that this wrong information was released on mainstream [media] where we have great reliance on, especially on issues related to the continuous employability of our Filipino seafarers and the stability of our maritime industry as a whole.

"These are very serious matters that ALMA Maritime Group monitors through all media platforms, so we hope that journalists will always be responsible and factual when releasing news items such as this because news spreads so fast," she said.

Garcia's concerns are echoed by a veteran ship captain, owner's representative and general manager of Greek-owned Eastern Mediterranean Manning Agency, Edgardo Flores.

"[That] news is very irresponsible. It only created confusion," Flores said.

"Even if it were true that the President has delegated Marina's task to five other agencies, our chances to comply with the EMSA audit might do more harm than good. This is because Marina is the regulatory body and sole maritime administration to deal with seafarers. It is quite worrisome that our industry problems will be handled by agencies who have little to no understanding of the STCW Convention," he explained.

The Philippines, being a member state of IMO, has appointed Marina as its Flag State Administration by virtue of Executive Order 125, as amended. It has also been designated as the single maritime administration responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the STCW Convention, as amended.

This law mandates Marina to ensure that the provisions of the STCW Convention are implemented.

Recurring threat to Filipino seafarers

The European Commission, in whose name the EMSA inspections are conducted since 2006, is strict in enforcing the STCW provisions on training facilities and procedures of countries supplying seafarers to European flagged vessels.

Based on the 2017 EU Seafarers Statistics, the Philippines is the primary non-European country that deploys seafarers onboard EU-flagged ships with about 50,000 ship officers due to the Certificates of Competencies recognized by European ship owners.

Should the Philippines fail the EMSA audit, it will lose the certificate of recognition, thus, leaving tens of thousands of Filipino seafarer officers onboard European vessels jobless.

The threat of Filipino officers losing their jobs onboard European-flagged ships has been reiterated every year as the country struggled to pass the audit, with most deficiencies yielded by maritime schools for being qualification-based instead of competence-based and for substandard quality management implementation.