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Gov’t rushes solutions to save 400k seamen’s jobs

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The Department of Migrant Workers on Tuesday said it is “actively pursuing solutions” for the Philippines to comply with an audit by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), with a deadline set at yearend, as the jobs of more than 400,000 Filipino seafarers are at stake, according to a Deutsche Welle (DW) report.

DMW Assistant Secretary Jerome Pampolina made the statement after the EMSA found 13 shortcomings and 23 grievances, among them the lack of training equipment, inconsistencies in teaching and assessment, and deficiencies in the country’s seafarers’ education, training, and certification system.

“The country has not been able to pass the EMSA Audit since 2006 or for more than a decade. This is the final year for the Philippines to adopt corrective measures towards full compliance,” Pampolina said.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. vowed the country would comply with the standards and pass the audit when he attended a joint meeting of the European Union and Southeast Asian leaders.

Two weeks ago, on a visit to Brussels, Belgium, Mr. Marcos ordered the creation of an advisory board to address deficiencies identified by the EMSA in the Philippine seafarers’ education, training, and certification system.

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EMSA is charged with reducing the risks of maritime accidents, marine pollution from ships and loss of human lives at sea.

Celia Dejond, press officer for the European Commission, told DW that in case a withdrawal decision is adopted, existing Filipino seafarers’ certificates would only be recognized until they expire. The maximum period for the recognition of seafarers’ certificates is five years.

“Since the Philippines reply [to the audit findings] was very extensive, the European Commission services assisted by experts are still carefully analyzing it with the intention to finalize the process with a final decision possible by end of first quarter 2023,” said Dejond.

Earlier this year, the agency specified that the training and certification in Philippine maritime education institutions fell short of guidelines mandated by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) for Seafarers.

The European Commission will ultimately decide the seafarers’ fate following the EMSA audit, DW reported.

If the Commission upholds the findings, it may no longer recognize Filipino seafarers’ competency certifications, which would prohibit them from working on EU-flagged vessels—effectively leaving them jobless.

The Philippines could also end up being excluded from the International Maritime Organization’s “white list” of countries with seafarer employability, the DW report added.

Pampolina warned that if the recognition of PH-issued STCW certificates is withdrawn, the country will undergo a new round of evaluation and must satisfactorily comply with the findings before the recognition is restored.

This means Filipino ship officers and ratings will no longer be qualified to be deployed in European Union (EU)-plying vessels that require such certifications, he noted.

Pampolina cited the EMSA Outlook for 2020 stating that the Philippines leads non-EU countries with the most seafarer officers working in EU-flagged vessels with a total of 30,615, while data from the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) shows a total of 50,000 Filipino seafarers.

However, Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista assured that the government will address the findings of EMSA to avoid the Philippines from being blacklisted by European shipping companies.

“It’s important that we should not be alarmed by this, because we did not fail the audit,” Bautista said.

He said the President has already ordered the creation of a body to monitor and work closely to ensure that the Philippines comply with the EMSA evaluation and pass the International Convention on STCW.

Tasked to tackle the country’s EMSA compliance, besides the DMW, are the Department of Transportation (DOTr), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA).

“There were findings, there were observations but the Philippine government, through MARINA, CHED, Department of Migrant Workers, DOLE, and PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) are working together and closely regarding this,” Pampolina added.

“We will continue to update the EU on what the Philippine government, through different agencies, are doing to maintain the Philippines’ membership with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and continue the employment of Filipino seafarers to the EU,” he said.

In November, President Marcos met with EU transport officials in Belgium and assured them the government is committed to addressing the flagged deficiencies and complying with European regulations.

Officials insist the government has taken consistent measures to improve maritime training and education and has significantly reduced the number of audit findings over the years.

“We have taken considerable efforts to show the country’s compliance with international standards, such as policy revisions and issuing standards and guidelines which are aligned with outcomes-based education,” Cindy Benitez-Jaro, executive director of the Commission on Higher Education, told DW.

Samuel Batalla, officer-in-charge of the Maritime Industry Authority, said the exhaustive corrective actions presented by the Philippines in response to the audit “gives us the confidence that we can expect for a positive outcome.”

“As for expectations, we are always hoping for the best,” he said.

Data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development shows that the Philippines is the world’s largest provider of seafarers, followed by Russia.

An estimated 380,000 Filipino seafarers, or over a quarter of all global merchant shipping crew members, are deployed on domestic or foreign-flagged shipping vessels.

Figures from the Philippine Central Bank show that in 2021, Filipino seafarers sent home an estimated $6.54 billion (€6.15 billion) in remittances.

Filipino seafarers were among those most impacted by pandemic-related lockdowns, border closures, and lack of international flights which left hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded at sea, unable to be replaced or repatriated.

“Seafarers—including Filipinos—have already suffered a lot during COVID. Further employment difficulties are not really what they need,” Jan Hoffmann, head of trade logistics at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, told DW.

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