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Filipino sailors cleared to serve on Canadian-flagged vessels for first time

Filipino sailors cleared to serve on Canadian-flagged vessels for first time
Paul Withers · Apr 23, 2023

Deal to make it easier to find qualified seafarers for various roles aboard ships and ashore

Canada and the Philippines have signed a deal that clears the way for Filipino sailors to crew Canadian-flagged vessels for the first time.

It's an attempt to address a major problem on board Canadian ships.

"Industry and other government departments have communicated to Transport Canada the need in finding qualified seafarers to assume various roles aboard ships and ashore to support marine operations," Transport Canada spokesperson Hicham Ayoun said in a statement to CBC.

The reciprocal arrangement between Canada and the Philippines signed March 29 recognizes Philippine certificates of competency for Filipino sailors — known as Standard for Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

It means Filipino sailors will be able to work on Canadian-flagged vessels with a work visa and without first securing permanent residency status.

"We've been requesting assistance from Transport Canada to help us bring in more foreign workers to work on our ships, and these are officers and regular seamen because we have an acute shortage of personnel in the marine industry in Canada," said Bruce Burrows, president and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce.
'This is good for our ship owners'

The chamber primarily represents Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway shipping interests.

Burrows believes Filipinos could be on board later this year.

"This is good for our ship owners and in the North American supply chain as it will make the marine-centric part of the supply chain even more reliable," he said.

The Philippine arrangement was made public earlier this month in a Transport Canada ship safety bulletin.

The Canadian Merchant Service Guild represents the majority of ships' officers and pilots in the Canadian Maritime industry.

It did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
An important step

The Canadian Coast Guard is also looking at Filipino and other foreign seafarers. Canada already has reciprocal arrangements with Australia, France, Norway, Ukraine, Georgia and the United Kingdom.

"We are exploring considerations around security clearances, work visas and Transport Canada requirements that CCG will have to fulfil to obtain the STCW certification endorsement for each candidate," said Fisheries and Oceans spokesman Craig Macartney.

Bud Streeter, a long-time shipping industry veteran, says this is important for Canadian shippers and Filipinos.

Among his roles, Streeter is a ship welfare visitor for the Mission to Seafarers.

"What strikes me as most significant is it is an agreement with one of the largest seafaring nations in the world," he said.

He said these are seafarers "who, by my experience, are very experienced and also very diligent in what they do and … many of them that we see would aspire to come to Canada."

There have been questions raised about whether Philippine competency certification meets standards set by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations ship safety agency.
Philippine certification recognized

A European Maritime Safety Agency audit revealed non-compliance with STCW regulations.

However, the European agency subsequently accepted assertions from the Philippines that it had taken corrective action and announced it would recognize Philippine certification.

The Philippines remains on the IMO's list of countries that meet its standards.

Burrows said Canada would not have entered into the arrangement with the Philippines unless it was comfortable with competency levels.

Shippers have no concerns.

"We've worked with them globally in the past," Burrows said.

"Our ship owners who also work in global operations are familiar with a number of these seamen. And so they have seen them as great workers on ships and know their competencies already and they're very happy to seek and receive applicants now from the Philippines."