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EU Drops Proposed Ban of Filipino Seafarers Over Training Deficiencies

EU drops proposed ban on seafarers
EC has agreed not to proceed with a proposed by on Filipino seafarers (file photo)

Published Mar 31, 2023 12:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

The European Commission has agreed to continue recognizing certificates for seafarers issued by the Philippines, despite ongoing concerns about the quality of the education being provided by private schools to the seafarers. The government of the Philippines, supported by a collation of shipping organizations, was able to sufficiently address the concerns raised by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) regarding the country’s standards of training and certification, with the EU promising further technical assistance to continue to improve the programs for these vital members of the shipping community.

A long-simmering concern in the maritime world, the issue came to the forefront last year after EMSA issued a report that explored the deficiencies in the country’s standards of training and certification. The agency updated its list of concerns from an effort that dated back to 2006 when they first identified what they believed were significant issues in the training programs. EMSA’s report specified that the training and certification in Philippine maritime education institutions fell short of the guidelines mandated by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.

The European Commission informed the Philippines that recognition of their seafarer certificates would be withdrawn unless serious measures were taken. The proposed action would have covered all ships flagged in the European Union banning them from starting new employment contracts with Filipinos. Existing certificates would have been recognized until they expire but Filipino seafarers would not have been permitted to apply for jobs on ships flagged in the EU with new or renewed certificates.

The Philippine government responded with a series of actions including personal intervention from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who met with European Union officials and assured them that his country is committed to addressing the issues and complying with European regulations. The efforts were also raised in discussions between EC President Ursula von der Leyen and President Marcos during the EU-ASEAN summit in December 2022.

"We appreciate the constructive cooperation with the Philippine authorities and welcome their efforts to improve the system for training and certifying seafarers,” said Commissioner for Transport Adina V?lean announcing the decision to continue to recognize the certificates. “The Philippines can count on our technical support to further improve the implementation and oversight of minimum education, training, and certification requirements, as well as living and working conditions."

The shipping community also rose to support the Philippines while highlighting that the country is one of the largest sources of seafarers. The Europeans Community Shipowners’ Association and the International Chamber of Shipping estimate that Filipino seafarers represent at least 14 percent of the global workforce while the EC notes that roughly 50,000 Filipino masters and officers currently working on EU-flagged ships. The concern was made especially acute by the ongoing shortage of seafarers as well as the war in Ukraine which is impacting the supply of both Ukrainian and Russian seafarers, two other nations that historically have contributed to the workforce. 

“European shipowners welcome the recognition of the training and the certification system of the Philippines. We congratulate the country for their commitment and their in-depth response to the shortcomings identified by the Commission,” said ECSA Secretary General Sotiris Raptis. “This is a positive development as Filipino seafarers play a central role in European shipping and in keeping European trade moving.”

President Marcos had discussed the establishment of an advisory board as one of the proposed steps. In January 2023 the new advisory committee was launched to give expert advice on major maritime issues affecting Filipino seafarers. The ECSA and ICS joined in the effort along with other organizations representing seafarers, shipowners, and other maritime employers and the government of the Philippines. The newly established International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs (IACGMA) will also continue to work with the Philippines advising on key issues to ensure the standards are maintained in training and certification. 

“By all of us working together on these issues, we can tackle the challenges ahead for our workforce. Maintaining seafarer training standards globally ensures a brighter future for our seafarers,” ICS Secretary General Guy Platten. “As a major seafaring nation, Filipino seafarers are a vital and valued part of the seafarer workforce. This decision made by the European Commission is a testament to the Philippines’ hard work to make sure seafarer training complies with regulations.”