To be sure, not all manning agents are bad. Some are scrupulous and treat seafarers fairly. In Manila, however, there is a culture of greed to which many crewing companies have succumbed. I am reminded of an 1881 illustration (pictured above) from the 19th-century weekly newspaper, L’Illustration européenne. It shows an old man taking bags of gold coins to his deathbed and exclaiming “Alas, must I leave you my dear lambs”.
Between 2005 and 2019, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) made a total of 74 visits to non-EU countries — from Israel and Tunisia to Indonesia and the Philippines. This shows how seriously the EU takes the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). However, in no instance did EMSA make public its findings. The lack of transparency may save some countries from embarassment, but ultimately, it is neither good for them or their seafarers.
For the nth time since 2006, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is conducting another inspection in the Philippines to verify its complaince with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). It normally inspects non-EU countries supplying crews to EU-flagged ships once every five years. This entire thing has been a never-ending fandango. All the dancers have been going round and round to the STCW music. They must be tired by now, so why not cut to the chase? In my view, the EMSA team needs to ask only three questions at this stage.
The STCW convention sets minimum standards for the training and certification of seafarers. That’s all well and good, but is competency enough for ship officers? Many a seasoned captain has figured in horrific sea accidents, not on account of bad weather or an unseaworthy vessel, but because of some character flaw.
Does a country pass or fail the inspections conducted by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to review its compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) ?
It may seem strange for Marine Café Blog to raise the question. After all, everyone has been talking of the Philippines having “failed” the string of EMSA audits since 2006. Filipino maritime officials are expressing optimism that the country will “pass” the next one in March 2020. In turn, the two terms are bandied about by the press, which has done a great deal of sloppy reporting on the subject.
Inspectors from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) will be in Manila shortly to check once more on the country’s compliance with the STCW convention. Unless they are wearing blinkers, they cannot possibly overlook one basic fact: there is still a glut of maritime schools.
How many out of every 10 Filipino ship officers would do whatever they are told by their foreign captain? I once posed this question to a former chairman of the state marine licensing board in Manila, himself a licensed master mariner. Without hesitating in the least, he answered: “Eight out of 10.”
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.
“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:
In June of 2018 Marine Café Blog exposed the rampant practice in Manila of shortchanging seafarers in the conversion of their dollar remittances to pesos. Uncrupulous manning agents are still at it in 2020. All told, they rake in millions annually without getting even a slap on the wrist for their financial mischief. Why this deplorable state of affairs continues is not hard to understand: the system facilitates the stealing.
Manning agents in Manila may not be living in palaces. But they have servants at their beck and call just like Tsar Nicholas II and his family. And the servants are all young, too — maritime cadets who work as unpaid flunkeys (aka “utility”) and domestic servants in the offices and homes of the agents.
I have never quite understood why Filipinos keep saying they are the top crew-supplying nation. The line is repeated so often by manning agents, journalists and academics that it has become a mantra. Those who say it do so with unconcealed pride — as if manning other...