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With more than 50 international protocols now governing the shipping industry, the theme for World Maritime Day 2014 couldn’t have been more appropriate: “IMO Conventions: Effective Implementation”. It also couldn’t have been more ironic. Seafarers are still denied free online access to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and other IMO treaties that directly affect their work.

We’re surprised that IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu seems not to see the irony. Have the good folks at IMO London fallen in love with their own rhetoric? In his message for the 25th September event, Mr Sekimizu said:

“For an IMO convention to be properly effective, it needs early entry into force, widespread ratification, effective implementation, stringent oversight of compliance and vigorous enforcement. Even those conventions that command almost universal coverage of the global fleet, such as SOLAS and MARPOL, only have teeth if they are backed up by an effective implementation infrastructure at the national level.”

How could the Secretary-General speak of “effective implementation” and not mention the need for information dissemination? And how could information be effectively disseminated if it doesn’t get to the seafarers, on whose shoulders ultimately lies the success or failure of the IMO conventions?

The omission is understandable. IMO has been raking it in by selling copies of the IMO conventions in print and digital format. The ILO also sells print editions of the ILO conventions, including the seafarers’ “bill of rights’ –  Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. However, it has the good sense to publish the full texts of these treaties in its website – free for everyone to read, re-read and copy.

In Manila, an authorised 2011 print edition of the STCW Convention and Code sells for PHP5,000 (about US$111) whilst a pirated copy can be had for PHP1,500 (US$33). Does anyone expect a Filipino seaman to pay even the bootleg price? With the same amount, he could buy two cases of San Miguel beer and some calamares to boot. ~Barista Uno

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