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The coronavirus pandemic has forced the European Maritime Safety Agency to suspend its inspection visits to non-EU countries supplying crews to EU-flagged vessels. Between 2005 and 2019, EMSA had racked up a total of 75 such visits (click here to download the complete list). The audits, performed by EMSA on behalf of the European Commision, have all been aimed at ensuring compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

Well and good. The Convention is meant to improve the quality of seafarers. However, I am beginning to wonder: Wouldn’t it be better if the EMSA inspections were scrapped altogether? Shouldn’t each EU member state be allowed, as a matter of sovereign right, to decide whether seafarers from outside the EU are up to standard and to hire them according to their needs?

It may seem strange that I am raising these questions now. Marine Café Blog, after all, had stood up more than once to defend the the right of EMSA to conduct the inspections on behalf of EU member states. In a 2017 post, I reminded readers :

Regulation I/10, Article 1.1 of the Convention as revised in 2010 provides that, when recognising by endorsement the certificates of officers, “the Administration has confirmed through an evaluation of the Party, which may include inspection of facilities and procedures, that the requirements of the Convention regarding standards of competence, training and certification and quality standards are fully complied with.”

In the case of the Philippines, I saw EMSA as a gadfly to prod the national authorities to introduce some much-needed reforms. The string of EMSA inspections since 2006 has no doubt served that purpose. The country placed STCW implementation under a single administration. Quality management systems were also adopted by the government and individual maritime education and training institutions. Even so, certain deficiencies remained, and EMSA would most likely have conducted further inspections if the coronavirus had not intervened.

All third countries supplying seafarers to the EU are, of course, subject to periodic EMSA inspections (normally every five years). Countries deemed to be problematic could be visited more often. It is really an endless cycle. It is also costing the EU a good deal of money.

Why not just let the individual EU member states continue issuing endorsements of ship officers’ certificates of competency (COC) based on the good judgement of their respective maritime administrations? Why not channel EMSA’s time and resources to more technical and financial assistance to the countries that need them? More important, what has Brussels and the European Commision got to lose if the inspections were scrapped except perhaps the sense of control that bureaucrats cherish?

~ Barista Uno

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