Is STCW no longer fit for purpose?

Shipowners and managers want to make comprehensive changes to how we go about training crews. Splash identifies what are the key adjustments being sought.

You have to hand it to Esben Poulsson and the team at the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), they certainly know how to set an agenda. While the shipowning body has spent much of the year focused on environmental matters this November Poulsson chose the big CrewConnect event in Manila to change tack and seek debate about dramatic changes to how seafarers are trained.

Poulsson has called for a comprehensive overhaul of International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), and his arguments have been met with widespread approval from a wide range of senior executives contacted by Maritime CEO.

Created by the IMO in 1978 STCW has been updated a number of times since, most recently in 2010.

The ICS boss argued that the standards of competence within STCW are not appropriate for the standards now desired onboard and suggested that it was a problem of international oversight of implementation.

STCW has become “top-heavy and cumbersome,” Poulsson said, going on to say the convention was no longer fit for purpose and was unlikely to deliver the competent seafarers the industry needs going forward.

“The pace of both technological and regulatory developments will make the next revision critical,” Poulsson said of any changes to be made at STCW.

The ICS chair highlighted four possible high-level goals or priorities he’d like to see in the next comprehensive revision of STCW.

First, any revision should continue to provide an international regime of recognised standards for seafarer training and certification.

“Regional requirements constantly threaten global standards. Shipping companies and seafarers cannot afford for this threat to be realised,” Poulsson observed.

Secondly, any STCW revision must deliver competent seafarers to meet the industry’s needs.

“We own and operate ships, not maritime education and training institutions. Shipping companies are the customers of training providers and require competent seafarers. There have been recent examples where training has been manufacturer and training industry led, rather than user or customer led, which must change,” the shipowner boss stressed.

Thirdly, Poulsson, who is also president of the Singapore Shipping Association, said a revised STCW must respond and adapt to 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.

Finally, Poulsson said a revised STCW must seek to improve transparency and robustness of oversight of implementation. The current STCW Whitelist is not transparent enough and does not contain robust monitoring of national implementation to ensure STCW delivers quality seafarers, Poulsson argued.

At the same event Anglo-Eastern’s Captain Pradeep Chawla agreed with Poulsson on the urgency for change, saying: “The fundamental need is that any regulation must keep up with what’s happening in the industry. In my view, there has to be a comprehensive review of all IMO regulations to see what’s the current issues with seafarers.”

“It is now time to revise, revamp and relook at the entire process of seafarer training. Understanding the shipping reality today means addressing requirements rather than learning from the training,” said Fared Khan, marine director of Wallem Shipmanagement.

“I think the future will go much more towards sealess operations, we have to reconsider the entire concept of STCW, which has to be made in a different way,” said Torbjorn Eide, vice president of Klaveness Ship Management.

“As a shipowner and ship operator, STCW is a prerequisite of our operations. But we live by the customers who are actually raising the bar. So it’s not the STCW that makes us good, it is our customers,” Eide maintained.

According to Eide, STCW sets restrictions on his company when it wants to optimise safety standards by using digital tools.

“It would be a completely different mindset when it comes to marine safety in the future as more engineering jobs could be move to be shore-based,” Eide reckoned.

Speaking with Splash, Frank Coles, the newly installed CEO of Wallem Group, says change is needed, but anything that passes through IMO risks being out of date by the time it is legislated.

“ While the regulations are possibly outdated they only set out a minimum standard,” Coles points out.

Coles, famous in shipping for being a digital provocateur, questions how to write a new STCW of minimum training requirements when the environment and technology in use is changing rapidly.

“The usual manner is to create a generic, broad regulation open to interpretation and abuse. This is the case with the current STCW and other regulations,” he maintains.

Carl Schou, another shipmanager with a keen eye on future technology necessities, has a similar point of view with his Wallem counterpart. The CEO of Singapore-based Wilhelmsen Ship Management says, “ STCW must reflect the challenges we are seeing today and tomorrow in shipping. The rapid technology development we are seeing will set a totally new set of requirements regarding seafarer competence and knowledge and this must be reflected.”

He also applauds Poulsson for saying that it must be owners and managers – not manufacturers – who set the agenda.

Schou says it is also important we get a more robust global regulatory framework, observing: “We are seeing today member states who fall far out of the scope of implementing today’s STCW – and they are still on the white list.”

Another Singapore shipmanager, Vinay Gupta, managing director of Union Marine Management Services, reckons the correct future proofing of training techniques can make shipping safer, if however there are inconsistencies in the new legislation trouble will arise.

“A chain is as strong as the weakest link,” quips Gupta.

Arthur Bowring, a consultant and former head of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association who knows the intricacies of STCW better than most, reckons a key problem with the existing legislation is in the competency standards that, he says, do not actually indicate competency.

“There has to be a better way to assess and ensure competency,” Bowring urges.

Many companies have their own assessment of competency with sea time in a rank prior to promotion, but it has been a common issue that once seafarers gain a certain proficiency level they then demand promotion to that level. If they do not achieve such instant promotion, they threaten to leave for another company that will offer them the promotion they seek.

“STCW could be revised to ensure a more consistent approach to competency,” Bowring concludes.

This article first appeared in the just published latest issue of Maritime CEO magazine. Splash readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here.


Splash is Asia Shipping Media’s flagship title offering timely, informed and global news from the maritime industry 24/7.
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