It has been 17 years since the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) made its inspection visit to Turkey — the first of many it would conduct to verify compliace with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). Yet, many still have a foggy idea about the real nature and goal of these inspections. They continue to see them as some kind of examination where the student receives a passing or failing mark.

As I pointed out in a 2017 article, “This is completely missing the whole point of the audit process — which is, to find out how efficiently a system works and whether and what steps can be taken to improve it. As the informed ones know, neither of the terms ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ can be found in any of the EMSA inspection reports.”

I should add another, less obvious, point. EMSA normally makes inspection visits to non-EU crew supplying countries every five years. In the case of the Philippines, these inspections have happened more frequently than the Filipinos — or EMSA itself — would wish. For all countries concerned, it’s a never-ending cycle. Zero or a dozen STCW-related deficiencies does not matter. What does are the actions taken by a country to correct them and maintau the standards set forth in the STCW.

Spreading the misconception

The misconception is not confined to Manila, where state maritime officials continue to mouth the words “pass” and “fail”. It has been reinforced by members of the press who do not know any better. Consider the following examples:

(Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan) Ople said all the agencies involved in addressing the EMSA issue have not really looked at the root causes for the country’s continuous failure to pass the annual audit. “The Philippines scrambles to prepare for upcoming EU seafarer audit”, Maritime Fairtrade, Indonesia, 7 November 2022)

The Philippines did not fail in the recent audit conducted by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) on the country’s training program and accreditation system for seafarers, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista clarified on Thursday. (“No EU ban on Filipino Seafarers”, The Manila Times, 4 November 2022)

The threat of Filipino seafarers losing their jobs onboard  European-flagged ships has (sic) 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 substandard quality management implementation. (‘EMSA Should Have No Control Over PH Schools”, The Manila Times, 23 February 2022

Should the Philippines successful (sic) pass the March 2020 audit EMSA it would bring to an end a saga that has dogged the world’s largest supplier of seafarers since 2006 when it first failed an audit by the European authority. (“Philippines says it has addressed STCW shortcomings ahead March 2020 EMSA audit”, Seatrade Maritime News, 20 November 2019)

The upside of ignorance

Misguided as it is, the notion that a country either passes or fails the EMSA audit is not totally bad. It keeps governments and maritime schools on their toes. It prods them to act on the deficiencies noted by the EMSA inspectors. Fear of the EU derecognising the certificates of Filipino ship officers certainly appears to be working. Never mind if the reforms instituted are just on paper; they satisfy the EU bureaucrats and pedants in Brussels and Lisbon.

~ Barista Uno

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