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:
• 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.