Fire alarm at Filipino seafarer factory

Some brickbats were thrown at us for our commentary last week on the Philippines’ manning, training and crew certification system (‘Inside the Filipino seafarer factory‘). One reader even said we had a low regard for Filipinos. That kind of obtuse comment misses the whole point of the article – that not all’s well with the seafarer factory and a major housecleaning is in order. Now comes the European Commission (EC) poised to withdraw recognition of STCW certificates issued by the Philippines unless a number of outstanding deficiencies in the system are remedied. We feel vindicated.

The Philippine authorities were served notice on the EC plan on 5th May. The country has until 31st August this year to inform the Commission about the measures taken to address the shortcomings – issues in the functioning of the maritime administration, insufficient quality procedures, insufficient monitoring of schools, inaccurate approval and review of courses, the level and quality of training, the poor quality of inspection of maritime education and training institutes and insufficient qualifications of instructors and assessors. Those flaws in the system were identified by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) during inspections in 2006 and 2010.

It’s a matter not to be taken lightly. In November 2010 the EC stopped recognising STCW certificates issued by Georgia to its seafarers – the first time it lowered the boom on a crew-supplying country. It would be naive for anyone to think the EC will treat the Philippines with kid gloves just because the Filipinos comprise, according to one estimate, 47% of the European Union’s non-EU supply of seafarers. The Europeans mean business. ~Barista Uno

26 Replies to “Fire alarm at Filipino seafarer factory”

  1. CAPT. Peter Boucher

    Very disturbing news considering the huge numbers of Filipinos employed in the various cruise ships. Many of these call at Port of Miami and Port Everglades my two ‘home ports’. As y’all know this involves thousands of seafarers and of course their families. If EU-EMSA acts then the USCG as our Port State enforcement aqgency will be required to follow suit.

    Good Watch.

  2. Per Nicolay Moerch

    I am working in the maritime industry in Manila and I have been following comments on this. Yes there are many schools here in the Philippines who do not met the standard, but it must be said that the fault is all the way back to high schools where the pupils do not learn simple mathematics and conversion tables, this again they drag further up in their college which shall teach them to become deck or engine officers. We have done some test on our cadets and it shows that they have lack of education in just this. Also I would say that for deck crew also are lack of training of so simple as rules of the road, IALA etc. I would not say that all schools are the same, but the level of teaching must come up, that’s why so many course centers are growing up, just to complete what the schools do not teach them. To get our seafarers up in standard we need to send to send them for assessment with follow up courses. Teachers in these course centers is experienced senior management officers and the standard in many of this training centers are on a high standard. It is not just to produce a lot of seafarers it should also be quality.

  3. neil

    And what are these schools that are producing thousands of graduates every year and yet, they don’t care if their graduates will land a job as a cadet/crew onboardship. Business wise, reality really bites. It’s would be better to have an entrance exam before you will be qualified/enrolled to study a maritime course. We should take the rotten tomato from good ones, or less, everybody would look like the same.It’s not about quantity, we should produce good quality for the betterment of the maritime industry.

  4. CAPT. Peter Boucher

    ALL HANDS: Surely the place to start is the Philippines School System. These schools MUST teach the courses required, namely mathematics and science, for maritime employment. Due to the present education level an entrance examination for the maritime colleges is clearly required. In conjunction with this all the maritime schools should be licensed by the government MARINA(?) and their employment record published each semester. The income generated by Filipino seafarers to the economy of the Phillipines must be high. Surely then it is in your country’s best interest to set effective training standards and continue the employment of Filipino seafarers. From now on when consulting I shall recommend to clients that ALL Filipino crew Officers and Ratings and indeed other nations, be given a Company assessment examination prior to posting to Company vessels, regardless of whatever Seaman’s Papers, License and employment history they arrive with. I shall also recommend the listing of those that fail this vetting process. Also of course their return to the Phillipines by activating their ‘open return’ ticket. Tough policy but clearly necessary due to an ever increasing incident rate.
    Good Watch.

  5. mbcuanzon

    These comments point to only one area of failure on the part of the Maritime Educational system in the country. We are not wanting in regulations as the STCW Code has been set as the guideline….it is in the implementation of the regulations that we fail miserably. Truth enough we have schools that have not complied with the standards all these years but the CHED (Commission on Higher Education) keeps on procrastinating on enforcing the standards. We have maritime schools owners who have observed the cutting of corners in the shipping companies and feel that they too can use the same ploy. We have a Technical Panel (sic) at the CHED which is composed of people who have vested interests. The same with the Maritime Training Council which runs the National Assessment Center without a proper assessment laboratory. We have a PRC (Professional Regulation Commission) whose integrity of examination has always been a big question… A shame that we do have some schools worth their salt but they are lumped together with the questionable ones are lumped together in the same hellhole. It is time that this government (na matuwid) should address this objectionable system of Maritime Education and and Maritime Transportation system in the country. What say you, President?

  6. pr2

    @capt. peter: Your suggestion is the best thing to do for now. I know some companies are doing that already.

    I am originally from the Philippines, now working as a surveyor in the US. Being a top graduate of my school during my time, i was consulted by my school after i took my first exam (3rd mate). Question was: how to improve the passing rate of my school’s graduates. 20yrs ago, I already said: improve math and science performance; or select the student entrants. The bottom line is that the educational foundation of freshmen is not good. and it is not limited only to maritime students.

    Depending on the government for solution to this systemic problem will be a long time coming, if it will come at all. One solution i could think is a step more than Peter’s suggestion. Maybe private manning companies can group together and create their own assessment procedure for Filipino seafarers, one that is more stringent and up to par with European and other foreign standards. Advantages: the burden of capital outlay will be shared; quality seafarers will indeed be selected without question; PRC (Professional Regulation Commission), MTC (Maritime Training Council), MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) should be shamed and should step up to the plate eventually (hopefully).

    This does not have to go on forever. Five years I think should be enough for people to wake up.

  7. Bob Couttie

    This reminds me of the battle to introduce computer-based exams due to the corruption at the PRC (Professional Regulation Commission). Only a loud outcry forced the issue. The deafening silence on this issue in the Philippine media and, indeed, the international maritime media, is worrying.

  8. Chris Haughton

    Alarm bells indeed with over 300,000 Philippino seafarers across the world. But we perhaps need to be more incisive. The problem with reports like these is that they throw a wrecking-ball into the WHOLE system and ignore the huge numbers of mature and competent seafarers who do legitimately gain STCW qualifications.

    It gives unwarranted ammunition to those on the right who may use this to further their own xenophobic and protectionist agenda. The criticism of the teaching, testing and systems will translate (if we’re not careful) into a criticism of the seafarer him or herself. That will be wrong.

    Also, it does nothing for the self-esteem and confidence of the organisations and individuals in the Philippines who strive for excellence with every fibre of their being. In my view, they deserve support, not a negative one-size-fits-all nationwide criticism.

    To declare my own interest: I facilitate leadership development programmes in Manila, mainly with junior deck and engineer officers. They present a range of cognitive skills and, in the main, their numeracy, linguistic and literacy skills are entirely adequate for our purpose (although I don’t test these specifically). Some of the young men (and there are only males in the groups I facilitate) are outstanding in their appreciation of the task they have to do.

    In short, they present the same sort of profile I would expect anywhere I’ve worked.

    I have not observed them on their ships so cannot be certain that their confidence and ability transfer from classroom to the ship – but reports from their companies appear largely positive.

    There are, of course, cultural issues surrounding undue compliance etc – but these issues are discussed in an open and adult fashion. Delegates are challenged and asked to face up to these issues and – crucially – work to devise personal strategies to cope and manage the situations they come across.

    Countries and companies who hire Phillipino staff perhaps need to invest in stronger (and specific) selection procedures, ascertain, inspect and audit the individual schools and colleges, induct the new crew with effective programmes, support them during those first few vital weeks and months and, above all, follow the example of the (many, many) reputable shipping and ship management companies in the Philippines who take an interest and already do this.

    All this takes time, effort and resource. Some companies have been doing this by the bucket-load for years. There may be others (?)who need to remind themselves why they source from the Philippines in the first place…and it could be time to start putting something back into the system that supplies so many of their crew.

    best regards

    Chris Haughton

  9. CAPT. Peter Boucher

    Mr. HAUGHTON: You seem to have a nice business going. To declare “those on the Right who may use this to further their own own xenophobic and protectionist agenda” was this the main thrust of your comment? I wish I could show you an e-mail I received from a socialist activist adult Left-wing student who in their profile proudly declares xenophobia. The e-mail was one of those that prompted my Post about commenting in NAUTICAL LOG at

    As to the legitimately obtained STCW qualifications, then those seafarers should have no problem to pass an assessment test and receive an endorsement for the future. If you have not observed your students on board ship then you are unqualified to judge seafarers’ capabilities in operation. I have personally trained thousands, considering the size of cruise ship crews, both Officers and Ratings of all departments over a 35 year period all on board ship. Each week the newly joined crew members completed a one day refresher course also conducted two drills, fire and passenger ship evacuation. Anything less is classroom theory which brings us back to the original problem of the Trainees being unable to qualify due to lack of mathematics and science at High School level.

    Finally, it would be interesting to know what degree/degrees you hold. In NAUTICAL LOG my profile lists mine so that readers can see where I am coming from before they read my opinions.

    Good Watch.

  10. Chris Haughton

    Dear Captain Boucher

    Your experience is vast and I certainly respect your views. You’re probably correct in saying the Right doesn’t have a monopoly on xenophobia – it just seems like that sometimes!

    But anyway, that wasn’t the main thrust of my blog and if it came across like that I’m sorry about the clumsy English. I suspect we’re on the same side basically, in wanting competent and safe ships’ crews; the main point I was trying to make is that it would be an injustice (I think) to penalise those (the majority) doing a good job for the sake of those who aren’t.

    Some years ago I taught school leavers (though not in the Philippines) and there were concerns back then over levels of attainment on leaving school, which, I think, is what you are saying. My colleagues (still teaching) tell me that things haven’t got much better. It means colleges routinely have to teach additional maths before the students are equipped to handle the maritime curriculum. Not the best state of affairs. I’m not doing maths or science with any of the delegates on my programmes so my comments only address general levels of performance rather than subject-specific areas.

    I’m new to this site so haven’t seen where to post my credentials, sorry – and I’m not familiar with the Nautical Log? But if it’s really that important, you can always check out my website.

    best regards

    Chris Haughton

  11. Bob Couttie

    Chris, what you’re saying is exactly what I was told after I did the Lloyds List exposes on corruption in the PRC: “What you’re saying is true but you mustn’t say it”.

    Before computerised exams were introduced, in part because of that expose, the ‘pass’ rate was 95 per cent. That dropped to 12.5 per cent when fraud-free computerised examinations were introduced. That is a serious safety issue.

    In this instance, Filipino seafarers are being cheated and exploited hand over fist. They need our support, and the best way we can give them that support is by pressuring the power that be to bring seafarer training up to spec.

    If we do not do so then we have failed, indeed, those seafarers to the odious exploiters.

  12. Barista Uno

    Mr Couttie,

    It’s amazing how some readers could miss the point of our two blog posts about the seafarer factory: that some things are not quite right in the present system and Filipino seafarers as a result are being, to use your phrase, ‘cheated and exploited hand over fist.’ Thanks very much for bringing it to the fore.

    The fact is that self-reflection is alien to many Filipinos. More so in Manila’s manning and training community, which remains hobbled by parochialism. That is why some folks cannot stand what they see in the mirror when it is held up to them. Our articles about the seafarer factory are precisely that – a mirror.

  13. ozgur

    I should say that alternative human resources like Turkey should be taken into consideration. Turkey has a great investment on human and there has been opened a lot of schools at the last decade. There are great opportunities in terms of manning and training. We have a system of training and assessment approved by IMO and EMSA. For further details you can contact me.

  14. Bob Couttie

    Do remember that the industry was happy to put up with the problems but imposed a ‘glass ceiling’ that limited opportunities for Filipinos to get into senior positions. Indeed, for many years the industry gave special treatment to Filipinos, hired experts to tell them how to treat Filipinos, remember Tomas Andres’ books? There is no equivalent about Indian, Chinese or Ukrainian seafarers. Why do Filipinos deserve special treatment?

    Then the industry said “we’ll take away the glass ceiling, but no more special treatment. Filipino seafarer training must come to the same standard that everyone else has to”.

    Do remember that the Filipino students are the ones paying to get their STCW cert in the hope of feeding their families and doing something for their communities (Some of which actually pay the student’s fees in the hope that the income will uplift the community economy). They are the ones being cheated.

    Anyone who accuses you of damaging the industry by raising big red flags really doesn’t get it – the times are gone when the Philippines had the industry over a barrel. Some companies are even hiring former Somali pirates.

    Those who really care about Pinoy seafarers will applaud you. The rest? Well, they can, and will, move their business to Kenya, Cambodia, Turkey, Bulgaria, China.

    The Philippines is no longer the only game in town.

  15. ocean mariner

    1. dont be too emotional
    2. face the problem or issue or correct the deficiencies or suggest
    3. let us not generalized the entire philippine maritime industry
    4. there are training centers and schools working hard devotedly to promote quality not quantity.

  16. Andrew Craig-Bennett

    I ought to expand that remark – there is an actual shortage of junior officers in China and none too many in other ranks either – by way of example Cosco is putting through an 80% (that’s eight zero per cent) pay rise across all ranks.

    This is known as bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted. But China is moving beyond the level of GDP per head where seagoing is an attractive career.

    But that does not solve the Philippines’ problem.

    Seriously, do CHED, the PRC and the MTC WANT this one solved?

    I respectfully suggest that many of their staff do not – they will be very happy when EMSA takes matters into its own hands and imposes a “white list” of EMSA accredited training organisations. This will save the staff at the three institutions I have listed from having to carry out the disagreeable and perhaps even dangerous task of actually failing substandard colleges and training centres.

    They can just hold up their hands, shrug, blame the wicked foreigners for anti-Pinoy xenophobia and carry on, without having to face the principals of a single training establishment and use the Philippines’ least favourite word – “No!”

    In a country which is about to give its hated dictator a heroes’ funeral, just because no-one will say “no” to the Marcos family, that is what you must expect.

  17. ocean mariner

    when the maritime industry was check out for its deficiencies…it was not actually the entire maritime industry but portions of it. however, the negative result injected to philippines seafarers may seem to ruin the entire maritime industry.

    let us not forget that it should check the strong institutions mentioned above who are entrusted to mold a better, competent and competitive seafarers.

    the question here is…who received the “NOTICE” from the european maritime commission or EC? why it is not being forwarded to those who are involved? the alarming notince was only featured in internet or here.

    anyway, it’s a good call to everyone. the bureaucracy is still on the steps of fighting the wave of corruption: from the fixer to those who are on top of this business.

    CHED is now imposing moratorium to different courses…i think maritime courses is about to be posted. CHED must frequently intensify their move to produce quality seafarers, not quantity. To visit and inspect maritime schools. Who among these maritime tertiary institutions are producing tough and competent applicants.

    PRC is developing its own system…and uprading some of its policies. despite their lapses before concerning maritime and other fields as well…

    MTC has revised and upgraded the policies and procedures regarding documentary requirements, administrative requirements, assessment guidelines, strict imposing of resolutions and circulars and checking all accredited training providers, instructors, assessors and other related matters. however, due to few qualified staff/inspectors they could not purely check all…but implementing strict policies.

    To produce a tough, competent and competitive seafarers…

    1. it must start on their first move to be a seaman… the maritime tertiary/college institution…who among these are top producers of qualified/board passers seamen…… maritime schools must stop fooling these trainees who wished to lift up their lives and feed their families one day. give them quality education, upgrade ur system, upgrade the equipments, regular seminars for all those involve in molding the lives of these young futute seamen…

    2. assessment must be intensified and must have regular upgradal of system

    3. training providers/manning agencies/shipping agencies who are accreditted by MTC must support the move to clear all those bad issues imposed to philippine maritime agency

    4. training providers/manning agencies/shipping agencies to continually build a strong trainings, clear values, upgrade its own system. to impose MTC memorandum….

    more issues to comment…thank u for the reactions, updates and reading my item…God bless us all!

  18. CAPT. Peter Boucher

    #18 Mr. Andrew Craig-Bennett:

    It is physically impossible for China to be “running short of seamen”. It may currently be a little short of TRAINED SEAMEN. Considering how rapidly China is rebuilding its nation it will have little problem to train seamen. As yet it has barely touched the female population which as cultural attitudes adapt will serve as they do in other nations.

    Point of interest at a change of Command on Friday June 02, 2011 the United States Coast Guard Academy is now under the Command of a female Admiral. We shall see that in China’s future also.

    Good Watch.

  19. Capt. Rodien Paca

    I have read so many comments about this matter and my own comments may create comments because I am Filipino and a seaman as well.

    1) There are problems in the whole maritime industry in the Philippines and they are randomly coordinated to create a bigger problem. Unfortunately, the government officials who are supposed to take care of this matter depleted their time on “other” matters than solving these problems.

    2) Educational systems, well there are lots to be done and lots to be explained. Students will always be as good as the teachers. Who were our instructors before? Stoic, selfish old sea dogs who taught their disciples – knowledge and arrogance were synonymous.

    3) I do agree Math and Science are essentials but English and Logic will be compulsory. I have been in this business for a long time and the line drawn (between) Filipino senior officers and Euro/Indian Officers is logic and reporting. That’s why a lot of Indians and Europeans went into shipmanagement after seafaring jobs.

    4) Being “brown-skinned” has been a contributing factor. When Filipinos committed mistakes, great media coverage will happen on that mistake but when they died, they’re not even mentioned in a meeting at the IMO snacks office. When Americans and Europeans died, SOLAS, ISM, ISPS were born.

    We need help and support. Chris is correct. We need to be pushed at times but we need also fair treatment!

    Unfortunately, fairness is something variable to other people.

  20. Capt. Bert Sanchez

    Capt Pelibert N. Sanchez

    I, too, am a Filipino and a seafarer as well. Reflecting on the “deficiencies” of our seafarers as evidenced in various local and international assessments of our system (EMSA for one), there is a concoction of various factors, from the grassroots – the Philippine Educational system – to perhaps lackluster efforts of other concerned agencies regulating seafarer’s competence – PRC, MTC, TESDA, CHED, you name it. A few mentioned inadequacy in our maritime students’ (and eventual deck/engine officers) educational basics of mathematics, science, English, logic, among others. While this is true, shipping companies should also look into tailor-made, focused training in the form of in-house courses specifically targeted at the Achilles heel of their own circle of seamen. Notably, every shipping Principal has its own training requirements to suit its own system (vessel type, trade, onboard systems) and requiring their seamen to undergo “generic” training may have minimal impact.

    My present company, for instance, uses Linux as the only O.S. for one of their fleets. Needless to say, their crew must learn Linux from square one, unless they have Linux to run their PCs at home (then no problem. unfortunately, most of us Filipinos may have been raised on Windows, right?). So the company trains their seamen on Linux. Problem solved. But then, the applications must be learned as well. It is imperative that petty officers know inventory systems, PMS (planned maintenance system) and stores and spares requisitions. And these are either done on a spreadsheet or a word-processor. Then literacy on these particular applications will also be a keen factor in improving job performance. And this is true for all ranks.

    I’d say that another contributing factor is perhaps lack of focused training. Have a nice day everyone 😉

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