Thursday, December 10, 2009

Protection of Seafarers, Bureaucracy vs Reality

Yesterday I attended a anti-Piracy forum (as an observer) in Manila, Philippines that was hosted by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. Other government agency participants in the forum include the Department of Labor and Employment, Overseas Workers welfare Administration and others. From the private sector, Seafarer labor unions and Manning agencies were also in attendance.

This forum was organized with the appropriate intent on establishing rules or regulations with the safety of the seafarer in mind. However, it must be first understood that the maritime industry is already burdened as a compliance heavy industry. It is correct to have the desire to protect the seafarer, however, from what I observed, these government entities do not have an understanding of how the maritime industry is already attempting to cope with the piracy issue in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

One of the suggestions that came from the government side, was to mandate that any ship carrying a Filipino Seafarer, must have a ships security plan and the seafarer should be orientated on the plan. Last time I looked, the ISPS Code already has that requirement in place, and all vessels already have a ships security plan. This type of suggestion immediately tells us that rules and regulations are going to be implemented by persons that have never been on a ship, and are clearly unfamiliar with the current regulations already in place.

The next step was to mandate that all Filipino seafarers must complete anti piracy training before they can be deployed on ships, and this is to become effective January 15, 2010. Further, this is to be effective for seafarers that are on leave, and those currently deployed on vessels.

The number of Filipino seafarers in the world is around 300,000. The question is, what is the training that is required, and how could anyone train 300,000 seafarers in that short period of time?

there is no answer to the second part of the question, but now the training that is proposed is to be a video. Someone in their infinite wisdom proposed that a video that was taken of a presentation by an INTERTANKO giving a presentation on Best Management Practices, should have a few pictures added to it and the seafarer be required to watch the video, then a certificate be issued.

I have nothing against the Best Management Practices as published by INTERTANKO, I actually commend them for this publication, and agree that it should be implemented on board vessels. However, this would be considered an orientation to seafarers and not anti piracy training. In fact, the publication for Best Management Practices has been out for a period of time, well distributed and well recognized in the maritime industry. As a matter of conclusion, the majority of seafarers in the world have probably already read the publication. I encourage all seafarers to become familiar with the Best Management Practices as published by INTERTANKO.

Should this effort of watching this video be called an 'orientation' of the seafarer, that would be appropriate. However, to term this as anti piracy training that will secure the seafarer would be ludicrous. It was very clearly stated that the elements of the Philippine Government present wanted to make this a mandatory training program in order to be a world leader in anti piracy training for their seafarers. This concept is a fantastic idea, however, if you want to be a world leader in anti piracy training for your seafarer, maybe their should be a training program that actually is a training program, not just a video on information that is already widely published.

Before a mandate of a training program such as Anti-Piracy training should be put in place, I would think it appropriate to hear the voice of the actual seafarer, the ship owners and representatives of the maritime security industry, in order to form a program that has the proper substance and value to the actual seafarer and the shipping company. Merely mandating a video to be watched, and a certificate issued is nothing more than bureaucracy attempting to take credit for establishing a program and trying to give it an appearance that they are solving the seafarers issues of sailing in dangerous waters, when in fact, the mandate of this as "training" is just above useless. This mandate would be a duplication to the efforts that shipping companies are already doing on their own.

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