STCW CONVENTION – Can it be further improved?

F R Chowdhury

The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers was originally adopted in 1978. This was a big and bold step forward by the global community to develop a unified standard for seafarers’ training and certification. I call it a big and bold step because until 1978, there was no such globally agreed standard for seafarers’ training and certification except for ILO Officers’ Certification Convention of 1936. The ILO Convention did not deal the matter to its full context and was not followed globally. The United Kingdom already had its own training and certification system. Similarly the United States, Russian Republic, France and certain other countries had similar system and arrangement. At the end of the World War II Britain was left with a huge empire that started gaining independence. These newly independent British Commonwealth countries along with the overseas territories kept on following the UK system of training and certification making it the most widely used system. The huge number of naval officers, who became redundant after the war, was issued with Certificate of Service, purely on the basis of their experience on naval ships.

The 1978 Convention was the first to provide a frame-work and structure of a certification system. It was no more necessary to follow British, French or Dutch system. There came a common international system. It became mandatory for Party States to make reference to the Convention. The Convention put a dead-line after which no further Certificates of Service could be issued. The Convention also introduced the system of revalidation of certificates whereby it became necessary for the certificate holder to up-date himself with all recently introduced technology.

The first amendment to STCW-78 took place in 1991 to introduce GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress & Safety Signals) and make the training a mandatory part of certification for deck officers. However, in 1995 the Convention went a through a major revision. The articles were left untouched so that the changes could be brought into force quickly through tacit approval. The regulations were changed. In the new system the regulations outlined the general requirement of certification for each capacity/ level. Then Code-A would contain a complete syllabus and assessment system making it mandatory part of the corresponding regulation. Code-B would contain more details most of which will remain non-mandatory (but helpful for the understanding of the system).

The ’95 standards remained in place for good 15 years. By then the industry as well as the community realised the need for further improvement. A diplomatic conference was held in Manila, Philippines and the amendments in the shape of revised regulations and codes were adopted on 25-June-2010 which also happened to be the day of the seafarers. One essential element was to make the requirement of rest identical to MLC-2006 Convention so that there is common approach and no contradiction. The convention so long concentrated on safe watch-keeping. This time they also considered all other factors for safe operation. They recognised the fact that ships require not only watch-ratings but also experienced and qualified ratings to assist in safe operation such as berthing and un-berthing, securing vessel for bad weather, maintaining security and carrying out essential maintenance work. The result is the introduction of two new categories of ratings known as Able Seafarer (Deck) and Able Seafarer (Engine Room). They are supposed to be better trained and more experienced than watch-ratings. Marine engineers also look after electrical matters on a ship. When the ship is large and complex with lot of electrical equipment such as the case of a passenger ship, it is necessary to have additional hands specialised in electrical engineering. This resulted into specifying training requirements for Electrical Officer and Electrical Rating. Opportunity was also taken to introduce security related training for seafarers engaged at different levels. The tankers training was further streamlined and modernised. It also introduced the need for the Administration to provide final document (after proper check and verification of specialised training as well as the mandatory period of supervised service on tankers) for officers to serve on tankers. All these changes and amendments have definitely improved the Convention and it now gives more unified approach to seafarers’ training and certification system.

Manning is a matter for SOLAS (chapter-V) but there has always been an integral relationship with STCW because all positions shown in the format of SMD are those identified in the STCW. The 2010 version of the Convention may be considered to have been given full and complete effect only when the format of the SMD includes all the newly identified positions though many ships may not require all of them.

The purpose of this article is to look forward to possible future amendments to ensure that no ambiguity is left in the Convention and that all interpretation will lead to common results.

  1. Regulation I/2 should be further improved to state “Certificates of Competency and final certificates for identified capacities in the Convention shall be issued only by administration of a member state”. This will also include such capacities as Watch-rating (Navigational and Engine-room), Able Seafarer (deck and Engine), Electro-technical Officer and Electro-technical rating. Certifications of all these capacities do require training, sea-service and assessment. Many member states have delegated this function to companies, others have delegated to training institutes. As a result no consistency is maintained and it also makes it difficult to verify any suspected certificate. It is only the administration of a member state that can review all required evidence and issue the final certificate. The use of the word administration will only mean flag administration and as such it should be clearly mentioned as administration of a party state.
  2. In the next review we must re-arrange regulations I/7 and I/8 in a more practical and realistic manner. Regulation I/6 make it obligatory for the administration to review, assess, approve, supervise and monitor training courses and centres. It is the sole responsibility of the administration to ensure that institutes within its jurisdiction operate under its full control and supervision. Obviously next step is the independent audit of the administration. This audit is to check and ensure that administration has done its duty properly. These duties include what is stated in regulation I/6 and in addition maintaining its own quality standard system to check identity of each candidate, age, medical fitness (regulation I/9), sea-service for the required certification and finally assessment of all training required under regulations II or III or VII and VI before issue of the final certificate. The administration will also check both sea-service and required training and assessment before issuing a final certificate to an officer for service on a tanker (regulation V/1). The administration shall maintain record of all certificates issued and arrangements should be in place to access them electronically by prospective employers and other administrations for purpose of verification. This independent audit is of the administration and not of the training institutes. The audit team may visit a training institute only to ensure that the administration has done its job. The logical conclusion is that when all these checks, verification and audit are completed then the administration should forward a copy of such independent audit to IMO.

  1. Regulation III/1 outlines minimum requirements of training for a Watch-keeping engineer officer. The training (in addition to those required under regulation VI and final education, training and assessment under A-III/1) has been shown in two different categories:

a)      18 months approved combined (mechanical and electrical) workshop skill training followed by 12 months sea-service in the engine department of which at least 6 months in watch-keeping duties under supervision of a certificated engineer officer with full record-keeping; or

b)      6 months approved combined (mechanical and electrical) workshop skill training followed by 30 months sea-service in the engine department of which at least 6 months on watch-keeping service under supervision of a certificated engineer officer.

This shows the importance the Convention attached to workshop training which is supposed to be the foundation for marine engineering training. Yet, the Convention does not give even a basic outline of the workshop training. This is a big omission. This must be included in the next revision of the Convention. The workshop training must include safety at work, Familiarization with tools and equipment, welding, steel fabrication, boilers, machine shop, drawing office, fitting shop, pumps, plumbing and carpentry, diesel shop, electric/ electronic workshop, ship-repair, dry-docking and shipyard practice, fire detection and extinction (smoke detectors, sprinkler, CO2  system etc.), air-conditioning and refrigeration, deck machinery, instrument and control, use of engine-room simulator etc.

  1. In regulation VI/1 it is written “seafarers shall receive safety familiarization and basic training or instruction ………”. It is wrong and very confusing. Basic training is a participatory training for all those who want to make a career at sea and the seafarer has to successfully complete this training. This cannot be equated with Familiarization Training which is ship specific and every seafarer (even master and chief engineer) has to know about a ship and its lay-out immediately on joining. The familiarization training may be given as a conducted tour and briefing. In any future revision this must be made clear as two distinctly separate components.

The Convention will require constant up-dating to keep pace with development of technology. However, at this stage the convention shall be considered full and complete when the outlined changes/ clarifications are made. I hope some member states shall take the initiative to bring the matter to the IMO floor.

London, 21-May-2013                                           <fazlu.chowdhury@btinternet.com>

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