Filipino officers on EU ships: a question of arithmetic

You can perish the thought of the European Commission withdrawing recognition of Philippine ship officers’ certificates. No, it is not because the Filipino seaman factory is now in tip-top shape. The 28 European Union member states represented by the Commission have little or no desire to dump Filipino officers. The fact that the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) made another inspection visit to the country in March this year — the fifth since 2006 — is a clear sign of their hesitance.

It all seems to boil down to arithmetic. According to EMSA Outlook 2017. a total of 28,874 Filipino officers held valid endorsement certificates from EU member states in 2014. This figure is not particularly large, but it is significant. It represents a full third of all masters and other officers (total of 86,633) from non-EU countries recognised by the EU and allowed to work on board EU-flagged vessels. Presumably, the numbers remain essentially the same in 2017, since EU endorsements are good for five years and can be renewed for another 5-year period.

Here’s a quick look at some key figures:


Source: EMSA Outlook 2017

The European Commission is facing the same dilemma it faced a decade ago. On one hand, it could instruct EMSA to conduct another inspection and then another — until all oustanding deficiencies related to STCW (International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) are corrected. This would be insane. Shall everyone wait for another 10 years? On the other hand, it could declare the country in full compliance with STCW, perhaps after one final audit, and give it the thumbs up. This would make many people happy. But how believable would such a verdict be? ~Barista Uno


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EMSA Outlook 2017 can be downloaded from here.

4 comments

  • BU – good analysis!

    I wonder: is a “third hand” anatomically possible? Could EMSA recognize the dilemma you point out, set out goals to be achieved over a given time toward full compliance, and provisionally continue to recognize Filipino officers? Or would this too much compromise EMAS’s vetting system?

    To judge by their numbers, presently employed Filipino officers are evidently doing good jobs. And the EU need them. Too bad for properly performing ship’s officers, and for EU companies, if they were to be denied recognition!

    • Thanks for your perspective, Reid.

      The whole matter rests on the Committee on Safe Seas and the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (COSS), which is made up by representatives of EU member states and is chaired by the European Commission. In 2014 COSS endorsed the Commission’s recommendation for the continued recognition of Filipino officers’ certificates. However, it was agreed that the Philippines flag administration (MARINA) would report back to the Commission every three months. EMSA would also conduct additional inspections in the country to ensure continued STCW compliance.

      I find this very strange. Why require the quarterly reporting to the Commission and conduct more EMSA inspections if the Philippines has complied with the STCW standards? Either an IMO member state has given “full and complete effect” to the Convention or it has not.

      I am tempted to think that Brussels is engaging in overregulation. This is part of the reason for Brexit and possibly for Frexit, if Marine Le Pen gets to be French president.

      • Thanks for the clarification, BU! Commercial realities will rule.

        However I think Brexit & the movements represented by Le Pen and others of her ilk, such as Geert Wilders are a step back, and are not motivated by overregulation but by more selfish human instincts. Not to say that overregulation doesn’t exist, but their motives are more similar to those of Donald Trump’s supporters in the US. These political demogogues are taking steps away from mutual cooperation and (with it) greater safety & security for the seafarer. But I know these are complicated topics, and my understanding is limited by my own philosophical perspective!

        • Reid, aren’t we all limited in our understanding by our own philosophical perspectives. I have not much to say about politics. but I agree with your observation about demagogues. I think the rise of demagogues (of all political colours) in Europe and the US is just part of what I call the ‘New Age of Unreason’. Throw in bigotry, social divisiveness, large-scale state surveillance, the diminution of individual freedom, and intellectual minimization through social media — and you have the opposite of what characterised the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason. 🙁

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