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Good news for our maritime industry

Good news for our maritime industry
Philip Cu Unjieng Apr 16, 2023

More than 50,000 Filipino seafarers, who are gainfully employed by European shipping lines, must have heaved a collective sigh of relief two weeks ago. In a nutshell, the report of the European Commission extending the recognition of seafarer’s certificates issued by the Philippines, was a reprieve for Filipino seafarers.

Our education, training and certification system (Maritime Education and Training Centers, METC) had been found lacking by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) as far back as 2006, the EMSA audit citing 23 grievances, and in 2022, the EU had categorically stated that if not addressed by March of this year, then the Filipinos serving on EU-flagged ships would lose their jobs.

On March 31st, the European Commission decided to continue recognizing our METC certificates, acknowledging the efforts to improve our system for training and certifying seafarers. And the intention to provide us with technical assistance to further improve the system was stated.

In fact, I’d like to highlight a passage from the EU press release about the decision of the commission: “Based on the answers of the Republic of the Philippines, and on all available information, the Commission has concluded that the measures taken demonstrate enough concrete progress and improvement as regards the compliance with the requirements of the STCW Convention.” The STCW is the global Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.

This is quite important, as while some may say that the 50,000 working under EU-flagged ships is just a fraction of the over 600,000 Filipino seafarers deployed at any one time across the globe, a ban by the EU could have created ripple effects, and held up to question our METC. This decision means we are no longer on some “grey list,” and that recognition of our efforts to comply with the EMSA, and by extension, the STCW Convention, has been made.

The annex to the Commission Decision further stated that, “any potential lack of full compliance with STCW in these areas is limited to a specific course, program, or a certificate or group of certificates, and does not normally compromise the overall compliance…”

The thing to remember now is that it is a reprieve, and there is a mountain of a task facing us to truly update and modernize our standards. Elevating our METC system is a must, and it’s an ongoing process that we cannot slack on. Full compliance should be the objective, so that our seafarers can be matched against those from any other country. It would be so ironic that as an archipelago and with numerous coastlines, and with an economy still relying on OFW’s, that our seafarers cannot meet standards that other countries regularly comply with.

It is a crisis averted, and I trust we will give credit to the Department of Transportation and to our Maritime National Authority (MARINA) for the work they did on this issue. They are the government agencies who were directly responsible for salvaging the situation. And if there was someone working on this during his travels abroad, let’s note and recognize how this particular issue was taken up by President Bongbong Marcos during his trip to Brussels in December, when he and EC President Ursula Von Der Leyen, had private talks on the sidelines of the EU-ASEAN Summit at the European Council headquarters.

Naysayers and critics like to point to his incessant peregrinations since assuming the Presidency last year, asking for concrete results for all this “travel lust.” And I believe that’s being ignorant of the nature of statesmanship, and how government operates. It may have taken some time to blossom; but I’m certain the Filipino seafarers are more than appreciative of our President’s diplomatic skills, and how he set in motion this favorable decision from the European Commission. For these seafarers, it’s literally a lifesaver; and its effects are not limited to the EU-flagged shipping lines, but to all Filipino seafarers.

It may just be a coincidence, but in the last week of June, we will have the Philippines hosting the annual International Chamber of Shipping. This means that over 150 VIP’s of the shipping industry will be arriving in Manila, and hopefully, visit the resorts of the country after the conference.

June 25 is the Day of the Seafarer, a day for recognizing the valuable contribution seafarers make to international trade and the world economy. According to the BIMCO/ICS Seafarer Workforce Report 2021, the largest supplier for both officers and ratings was the Philippines. So we are, in a sense, the foundation of the modern maritime industry. Let’s not imperil that fact.