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Education and training

Nautilus backs call for radical overhaul of the STCW Convention

4 December 2018

Why are so many seafarers finding that their hard-won STCW certification isn’t enough to get a job? If large numbers are having to take additional courses – often at their own expense – then there's something very wrong with the global training requirements, an international conference heard in November 2018…

Nautilus has backed a warning from the head of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) that the global rules governing seafarer training and certification need to be radically overhauled.

Speaking at the CrewConnect Global conference in Manila in November 2018, ICS chairman Esben Poulsson said it was time for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to kick off a comprehensive review of the STCW Convention.

Mr Poulsson said the fact that many shipping companies are providing additional training and requiring supplementary checks before crew are deployed suggests the convention is currently failing to deliver the competent seafarers the industry requires – and, in its current form, is highly unlikely to deliver them in the future.

The Convention was first adopted in 1978 and revised in 1995 and 2010, when the 'Manila amendments' introduced new requirements including electro-technical officer certification, security, safety and leadership and management training, and high voltage and ECDIS courses.  

However, Mr Poulsson questioned whether the most recent review had been sufficiently comprehensive. 'The 2010 amendments may have only been an interim revision, adding new training and certification requirements without removing outdated requirements or making structural framework changes to accommodate new elements,' he argued. 'This has resulted in STCW becoming top-heavy and cumbersome.'

The ICS chairman pointed out that the diplomatic conference which adopted the 2010 amendments had passed a resolution calling for comprehensive revision of the STCW Convention every 10 years – but there is presently no sign of anything being done to start this process.

He noted that the 2010 amendments had created significant challenges, with some countries struggling to update their national legislation, approve new courses, put seafarers through new courses and process new and revalidated certificates in time.

Against this background, he said the lack of movement to revise the convention is not surprising – especially as regulatory efforts at the IMO are concentrating on environmental issues. 'Safety matters, to which seafarer training standards are central, are not receiving the priority deserved,' he added.

Mr Poulsson said it was vital that the convention is updated in a way that secures its relevance and future. 'Global supply of quality seafarers, and their availability to the world merchant fleet, depend on it,' he warned. 'Regional requirements constantly threaten global standards. Shipping companies and seafarers cannot afford for this threat to be realised.'

Owners also want to head off the recent trend for some new training programmes to be driven by manufacturers and maritime training institutions, the ICS chairman said.

He argued that the STCW regime must be revised in a way that ensures it keeps pace with the rapid pace of technological developments, including increased automation of ship systems, equipment and operations. 'It should provide a structure of sufficient flexibility and adaptability to “hit the moving target” of a changing world fleet, and may need to develop a more modular approach to training and competency accumulation and certification,' he stressed.

'We can certainly anticipate increasing authority for decision-making by systems and equipment, with complementary changes in the purpose and frequency of human interventions required,' Mr Poulsson added. 'This will inevitably change the functions seafarers perform onboard ships, and the required skills and training.'

The STCW regime must be revised in a way that ensures it keeps pace with the rapid pace of technological developments, including increased automation of ship systems, equipment and operations
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The owners also want to see better processes for enforcing STCW requirements around the world. Mr Poulsson said the 'so-called STCW whitelist' of nations that have given the IMO evidence of compliance 'now serves very little real purpose as it includes everyone, and no one is deleted.

'ICS would not wish to tear up the whitelist without a suitable replacement,' he added, 'but there has to be a more transparent and robust monitoring system of national implementation to ensure that STCW continues to deliver competent and quality seafarers.'

Mr Poulsson said the owners appreciate union concerns over the potential impact of automation on seafaring jobs. But, he added, 'we challenge any perception that shipping will no longer need to recruit and retain skilled and capable persons – in fact, we think the truth is quite the contrary.

'The jobs market looks bright, but training is crucial,' he argued. 'Roles onboard and ashore will evolve operationally and legally, as will the skills required. Reviewing and understanding change is essential whenever technology is introduced, altering how we work. The result needs to improve upon today, not step backwards.'

Nautilus professional and technical officer David Appleton commented: 'Nautilus agrees with the comments of Mr Poulson regarding the STCW Convention and the IMO whitelist. Whilst the industry is getting carried away with talk of the imminent arrival of autonomous or semi-autonomous ships, recommendations from accident reports show that shipping has not yet got to grips with training people properly on how to use equipment that has been around for over 20 years.

'Mandatory training requirements introduced since the last major revision have tended to be reactive, and invariably place the onus on the seafarer to obtain a certificate to allow them to continue their employment,' he added. 'What the industry needs is not only a complete overhaul of the syllabi to ensure that they remain relevant to modern shipping, but also a mechanism to allow colleges to update their training programmes in response to industry developments without having to wait for amendments through the bureaucratic IMO committee structure.

'If these changes were implemented in conjunction with a system that not only monitors apparent minimum compliance with the convention – as is currently the case with the whitelist – but also recognises those administrations that offer higher quality training, then we could ensure the supply of competent seafarers for the future and that quality standards are constantly driven upwards.'

Top image: International Chamber of Shipping chairman Esben Poulsson (right) addresses the CrewConnect conference.

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