I used to go café-hopping in Manila. I would check out the brewing equipment in a particular coffeehouse, chat with the baristas and find out what sort of coffee beans and water they used. Shouldn’t shipowners likewise vet the country’s maritime training centres? Bad coffee will only set a customer back by a few bucks; a badly trained seaman could cost shipowners millions if a serious accident ever occurred.

The need for such vetting was driven home to me one time by a visiting British maritime trainer. The man had just finished conducting a vetting inspection course at a training centre which I had recommended. At the hotel where we met up, he expressed admiration for this centre and its management. He said he had visited another training facility and was dismayed to see how it implemented ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) training.

Yes, there are some excellent Philippine training centres. But many more, if they were coffeehouses, would drive away any discerning coffee lover. I have seen for myself training facilities with rundown facilities; worn-out life vests; obsolete simulators; and instructors who cannot communicate effectively in plain English or whose knowledge of navigation has atrophied with age.

Why don’t more shipowners make sure that training centres are issuing certificates that are worth the paper they are printed on? A training executive once offered an answer that I found a bit shocking. According to him, many foreign shipping principals let their manning agencies choose the training centres so that Filipino crewing managers can augment their salaries through the so-called “rebate” system. The word “rebate” is a euphemism, of course, for kickback — paid by training centres for every seaman referred to them by their contacts in crewing firms.

Whatever the reason, the failure of shipowners to properly vet local training centres is regrettable. It is tantamount to abetting corruption in the system. It certainly does not help promote training centres that meet international standards. But most important of all, it could be putting ships and shipowners’ businesses at risk. ~Barista Uno

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