After four inspection visits over an eight-year period, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) team must be wondering why it’s been so difficult for Filipinos to put their house in order vis-a-vis the STCW Convention. We ourselves have long ceased to wonder. Four main factors stand in the way of deep and lasting reforms.

Regulatory intoxication. The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has traditionally acted as a regulatory agency, not as a catalyst for maritime development as mandated by its charter. This is evident in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for Republic Act No. 10635, which gives MARINA sweeping powers to implement the STCW Convention. The IRR place heavy emphasis on penalties for erring MET (maritime education and training) institutions, whilst being silent on State support to enable these institutions to improve.

Lack of in-house expertise. Although MARINA has started to seriously address the problem, capacity-buildup will take time. It’s not enough to have graduates from the World Maritime University. The agency will need to be staffed by seasoned merchant marine professionals. In the meantime, the Commission on Higher Education, which by law continues to have chief jurisdiction over the maritime schools, has absolutely no in-house expertise to speak of on maritime matters.

Filipino it-will-do mentality. Filipinos tend to improvise solutions to problems as they go along – which is good and even admirable in many cases. What’s bad is when something is considered acceptable even though it does not really meet the standards, particularly where it concerns safety. Unfortunately, this kind of mindset is fairly common.

Embedded culture of corruption. The corruption that plagues society at large has not spared the MET sector. It’s standard practice for maritime schools in the provinces to wine and dine inspectors from Manila. The same is true for shipping companies and shipyards. We’ve seen it with our own eyes. And just recently, some training centres in Manila were complaining about a certain group asking for enormous sums in exchange for their re-accreditation.

The system is undergoing changes, but some things have not changed. Will they ever? ~Barista Uno


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