Shipowners call for STCW revision

Esben Poulsson calls for comprehensive revision of the International Convention on STCW. (Credit: International Chamber of Shipping)
Esben Poulsson calls for comprehensive revision of the International Convention on STCW. (Credit: International Chamber of Shipping)

In a recent speech in Manila, the chairman of global shipowners organisation the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Esben Poulsson, called for a comprehensive revision of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) which applies to about 2 million merchant seafarers.

The IMO convention was reviewed in 2010, with the adoption of the relatively minor ‘Manila amendments’, but the previous major overhaul of the STCW regime was last undertaken by IMO member states more than 25 years ago. Poulsson explained that ICS increasingly views the STCW 2010 amendments as an interim revision that added some new training and certification provisions without making the structural changes needed to accommodate developments in training or the competences that would be required to operate ships in the future.

Poulsson said it was common for employers to routinely provide additional training and assessments prior to the deployment of officers holding STCW certification. This, he said, called into question whether the convention was “still fit for purpose in the 21st century”.

He called for a “fully revised” STCW regime that would allow the industry to adapt more effectively to fast-paced changes in technology, including increased automation.

“It should provide a structure of sufficient flexibility to hit the moving target of a changing world fleet and may need to develop a more modular approach to competency accumulation and certification,” said Poulsson. “New technology is already changing the functions that seafarers perform on board and the skills and training they require.”

Meanwhile, an ICS representative told SAS that while STCW provided a modular approach, there was a need for greater flexibility, “building on the possibilities for alternative certification and the removal of 20th (or 19th) century demarcations between the deck and engine department”.

There has been widespread concern that many officers have a poor understanding of Colregs. This has led to many initiatives by P&I clubs and others to provide additional online training. Asked whether this was a particular concern, the representative said, “This is precisely why a revised STCW should provide increased oversight of the education provided by national training institutions.”

Poulsson touched on this issue, saying, “A revised STCW should seek to improve transparency and the robustness of implementation oversight. The so-called STCW white list of nations that have communicated information to IMO about compliance now serves little real purpose, as it includes virtually everyone. ICS would not wish to tear up the white list without a suitable replacement but there has to be a more transparent and robust monitoring system of national implementation to ensure that STCW continues to deliver competent and quality seafarers.”

ICS appears confident this process need not be too drawn out, telling SAS it hoped this “major exercise” could be completed by the early 2020s, but that is dependent on IMO member states.