STCW pains: What’s wrong with the EMSA inspections?

STCW pains: What’s wrong with the EMSA inspections?

It may seem odd at this point for Marine Café Blog to criticise the audits conducted by the European Maritime Safety Agency. After all, the EMSA team has visited the Philippines at least seven times since 2006 to verify its compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). More important, I have always regarded these inspections as a necessary gadfly to force the Filipino seafarer factory to shape up.

Essentially, my view has not changed. On the other hand, I believe that an unthinking society is fertile ground for demagogues, fake news and bad coffee. The truism applies as well to matters concerning the STCW and EMSA. So here’s my beef with the way the inspections have been handled:

 

Also in Marine Café Blog:

 

Sloppy news reporting on EMSA Philippine audits

 

The EMSA inspectors tend to be too pedantic. They look at the systems and procedures that are currently in place and try to determine if they conform to specific provisions of the STCW convention. This obsession with formal rules and small details carries a price: one loses sight of the broader context (e.g., the commercialisation of Philippine education in general).

• Training systems and procedures are not like zoological specimens that can be isolated and examined in a laboratory. Arguably, EMSA has failed to take into account or give enough importance to some critical factors which influence the country’s maritime education. Why are there still many diploma mills? Why do state regulators still rely on the private sector in the inspection of maritime schools? Shouldn’t EMSA be bothered by this situation if it is so concerned with quality standards?

EMSA inspection reports are not shared with the public. EMSA cannot invoke client confidentiality. Its inspectors are not lawyers or doctors. The EU proposal to de-recognise Philippine ship officers’ certificates, which has provided impetus to the EMSA audits, is a matter of grave national interest. Filipino seafarers, in particular, need to know the real score.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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7 maritime headlines that will grab your attention

7 maritime headlines that will grab your attention

“To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and those who edit and read it are old women over their tea.” Thus wrote Henry David Thoreau with unconcealed disdain for the press. The truth, however, is that most people are hungry for news and will gobble it up even if it is gossip disguised as news. Maritime professionals are no exception. The following are some headlines that should make them sit up and take notice:

EU Gives Thumbs Up to Philippine Maritime Education

ILO Rejects Calls for Mandatory Wellness Training

Shipowner Fined $1-M for Abandoning Crew

Human Rights Groups Slam Use of Cadets as Unpaid Labour

STCW Convention to be Amended to Include Gender Equalty

 

Shipping Industry Agrees 3-year Moratorium on Awards

Piracy Stamped Out in Strait of Malacca

The aforementioned headlines are NOT fake news. They just have not seen print. The reason is that the stories they refer to, although particularly notable or important news for the maritime industry, have not yet happened. Some may never happen. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if they did?

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Seafarers’ rights and art: what’s the connection?

Seafarers’ rights and art: what’s the connection?

Anyone who has been following Marine Café Blog knows that I frequently talk about seafarers’ rights and marine art. These two subjects are the main courses, as it were, on the menu — the recurring themes that have come to define the tone and character of the blog. But why art in conjunction with the rights of mariners?

The answer is simple. As I noted in a 2012 article, “In the 21st century, the biggest challenge faced by shipping is not how to improve maritime safety or reduce piracy attacks. It is how to reclaim its humanity.” I see art as helping achieve that end insofar as all art is ultimately a celebration of the human spirit. At the same time, I believe that no such celebration is possible without upholding the rights of shipping’s prime movers: the seafarers.

In the 21st century, the biggest challenge faced by shipping is. . . how to reclaim its humanity. I see art as helping achieve that end insofar as all art is ultimately a celebration of the human spirit. 

There is a stronger if symbolic connection between seafarers’ rights and art. Like all human beings, seafarers have certain inalienable rights which would still exist even if ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and all other related laws did not. Such rights are sacrosanct and are beautiful by virtue of being so. Violating them is like scratching or spraying graffiti on a beautiful work of art.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Why join the ‘wellness at sea’ and other bandwagons?

Why join the ‘wellness at sea’ and other bandwagons?

bandwagon: an activity, group, movement, etc. that has become successful or fashionable and so attracts many new people (Cambridge Dictionary)


There is nothing wrong with bandwagons per se. In fact, they are often necessary in bringing about change as the whole world is witnessing in the case of women’s rights and climate action. The problem arises when people are swayed by rhetoric, not reason, and unthinkingly hop onto the wagon just because it is fashionable to do so. Unfortunately, this is happening with the bandwagon that carries the banners “Wellness at Sea” and “Seafarer Mental Health”.

No one can deny that the mental well-being of seafarers is important, not only to the seafarers and their families, but to the shipping industry itself. Neither can anybody argue that depression at sea is not a serious problem. The statistics suggest that it is.

However, the way the maritime charities are talking about the issue makes one think that depression is an epidemic sweeping the seafaring world. Unwittingly, the do-gooders are creating an image of 21st-century seafarers as weak and vulnerable creatures who are prey to the meanderings of their own minds. Is this how the industry wants seafarers to see themselves?

To make matters worse, one charity has been clamoring to make wellness training for seafarers mandatory through an amendment of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. If successful, this would make the milestone convention, no longer a ‘bill of rights’ for seafarers, but a bill of opportunities for the maritime do-gooders. Many who have joined the bandwagon do not bother to ask: what’s in it for those pulling the wagon?

The same unquestioning attitude can be seen in the case of the biggest maritime bandwagon of all, the annual ‘Day of the Seafarer’. Marine Café Blog was the first and still the only one to call it what it is — an anomaly. From a blog post in 2016:

Call me a grinch, a spoilsport. But I have never felt the urge to observe the Day of the Seafarer (25th of June). It’s not just the empty slogans and tributes from the very people who have commodified seamen that dampen my mood. I am dismayed by the mere fact that the annual celebrations are spearheaded by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) — not by the International Labour Organization (ILO) or the United Nations collectively.

Indeed, why not the ILO, the UN agency dealing with labour standards and promoting decent work for all women and men? Is it not the ILO that sanctified seamen’s rights through ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and similar treaties that came before? What has the IMO got to do with the rights and welfare of seamen? (The anomaly of the Day of the Seafarer)

Alas, it’s a conformist world. Anyone who hesitates or refuses to join the bandwagon is seen as nothing more than a grinch and a spoilsport. The herd mentality reigns supreme in shipping no less than in the subservient maritime press.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Promoting art in a shipping world crazed by money

Promoting art in a shipping world crazed by money

Corporate offices cannot be expected to serve as small art galleries. But why should shipping and manning companies display only ISM and MLC certificates on their lobby walls? Why not also marine paintings, even if they are only repro works by famous artists? Some art would help give the premises a more pleasant atmosphere. It would also send a subtle message to visitors that the CEO knows how to appreciate art and is not a certified philistine.

Promoting art in an industry that is always in a mad scramble for profits will probably not be easy. How many maritime folks have the time for art? And yet, there are compelling reasons for promoting marine art — not least because it is part of humankind’s maritime heritage. Here are a three ways:

Give international awards to companies that have done the most to promote marine art. Perhaps the International Maritime Organization can launch such an awards programme. If bravery at sea and gender equality are so important to the IMO, why shouldn’t it treat marine art the same way?

Encourage ship owners to display marine art in the galleys and mess halls of their fleets. Art can have great therapeutic value. Yet, those who blabber about depression amongst seafarers do not mention it as one approach to the problem they say is very serious.

Incorporate marine art history and appreciation in the curriculum of maritime colleges. Education is not only meant to prepare the young to acquire the skills and knowledge they would need in the world of work. It is also a journey towards personal fulfilment and the well-rounded development of the individual.

 

To go back to the question, why promote marine art? One of the best answers was given by the English novelist and playwright, John Galsworthy. Speaking of art in general, he wrote in his 1911 essay, ‘Vague Thoughts On Art’:

Art is the one form of human energy in the whole world, which really works for union, and destroys the barriers between man and man. It is the continual, unconscious replacement, however fleeting, of oneself by another; the real cement of human life; the everlasting refreshment and renewal.

As things stand today in the shipping industry, many could make use of such refreshment and renewal.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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