I can’t blame inspectors from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) for being rather bookish in their audit of Philippine maritime academies. By necessity, they have to go by the specific regulations of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (or STCW), 1978, in determining whether quality management systems are in place or training equipment is being used correctly. But do they have to be as pedantic as lawyers to make their case?

The EMSA inspectors will once again be in town this March. Wtihout a doubt, they will use the same approach as in their four previous inspection visits. Any deficiencies discovered will once more be presented in a matrix when EMSA comes out with the inspection report. Without ignoring the STCW provisions, there should be easier ways to tell if a maritime school is for real or just another diploma mill. The following are some suggestions. They may sound offbeat and even whacky, but I believe they are practical and can be quite useful.

1. Demand to be shown the school’s copy or copies of the STCW. Any maritime school worth its salt should have at least one genuine copy of STCW 1978, complete with the 2010 amendments. If the school only has a pirated copy or a photocopy of the volume — which is not unlikely — it’s a tell-tale sign that the school does not think the STCW convention document is important enough to spend money on.

2. Check what materials are available in the school’s library. The library should at least have some books about the basics of navigation and seamanship and a nautical dictionary. You can pardon the school if it doesn’t have training videos. At US$250 apiece, these commercial films can be a real drain on financial resources.

3. Ask the president of the school to explain the main difference between Part A and Part B of the STCW Code. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of STCW should know the answer. If the head of the school doesn’t, then he or she should resign or be fired pronto. How can a maritime school claim to be STCW-compliant when its own president cannot answer such a basic question?

4. Ask members of the deck department faculty the purpose of ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System). You might be shocked by the answers. I once attended a one-day introductory ECDIS course in a training centre. During one session, I asked the lecturer, a licensed ship master and self-styled ECDIS expert, the main objective of ECDIS training. Without batting an eyelash, he replied: “At the end of the training, the student shall have learned proper voyage planning.” I felt I had just wasted an entire day sitting in the lecture room.

5. Find out from official government records how graduates of the school have been doing in the state licensure examinations over the past five years. In the final analysis, the quality of a coffeehouse can be gauged by the kind of coffee it brews and serves to customers. The same principle applies to maritime schools.

6. At the close of the inspection visit, hold an impromptu contest where five of the school’s brightest students will vie for the prize of US100. The contestants will each be asked to demonstrate what they know in a certain area of competency. It can be as simple as making a particular kind of nautical knot or drawing a ship on the blackboard to show the meaning of ‘draft’ or where the ship’s starboard is. The informal competition should be fun for the EMSA inspectors themselves. Only question is, will they gladly take out their wallets to raise the small prize money?

~Barista Uno

Feel free to comment on this article. You may also want to check out ‘Filipino maritime schools: the key question‘.

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