Singapore, Myanmar extend seafarer certificates

An aerial view of the Singapore port. Credit: Maritime Port Authority of Singapore

The Singapore authorities on 23 September decided to extend the validity of Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for seafarers (STCW) certificates and the General/Restricted Operator’s Certificate (GOC/ROC) automatically for six months.

The extension will be applicable for certificates that are scheduled to expire between 1 October 2020 and March 2021, from their expiration date.

The authorities concerned agreed to extend the validity of the certificates by online applications, as COVID-19 travel restrictions do not allow seafarers to return home and submit applications physically for renewal.

“In line with the IMO’s [International Maritime Organization’s] guidelines and considering the persistent difficulties in revalidating STCW certificates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore [MPA] and Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore [IMDA] have decided to extend the validity of STCW certificates issued by Singapore,” said a circular issued by the MPA.

It said seafarers can complete the declaration forms and then submit them to the MPA and IMDA by email.

“The MPA and IMDA will carry out assessments of the requests accordingly and issue a letter or email confirmation of extension if the request is approved,” said the MPA. If required, the MPA or IMDA may schedule a telephone or video-conference call with the seafarer as part of the assessment.

The authority also encouraged seafarers to renew their certificates before the expiry date and assured that the new certificate validity will be five years from the date of issue, taking into consideration the obstacles created due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Myanmar has asked its shipowners to engage every possible effort to repatriate seafarers in the first available port whose Seafarers Employment Agreement (SEA) has expired.

However, in a marine guidance issued on 1 September the director general of the Department of Marine Administration (DMA) approved SEA extensions for a maximum period of three months, in case the repatriation is not possible due to COVID-19-related difficulties.

The department cautioned the shipowners that in any case the maximum period of continuous service on board for seafarers shall not exceed 15 months.

The guidance said the global shipping industry is currently facing a serious challenge with COVID-19, especially regarding travel and quarantine restrictions affecting seafarers who are unable to return home at the end of their contract.

“The purpose of this marine guidance is to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of seafarers, as well as to ensure the safe operation of ships and to fulfil the legal obligations of the DMA as Myanmar has ratified the MLC 2006, as amended,” it noted.

“For the seafarer who is on board Myanmar-flagged ships longer than the original contract for reasons related to COVID-19, the extension of his SEA shall only be used as a last option due to the facts, such as exhaustion, fatigue, anxiety, and mental stress,” the guidance mentioned.

“A physical- and mental-fatigued seafarer has a much higher risk of being involved in a marine casualty. Therefore, the shipowner shall make every effort to repatriate the seafarers in the first available port once the SEA has expired,” it added.

It asked the shipowners to consider the mitigation measures to avoid fatigue and to support seafarers’ wellbeing, such as rearranging of work patterns to allow additional rest periods, shore leave where possible, and provide increased connectivity enabling the seafarers to contact home and access entertainment on board.

“Seafarers shall [be] monitored and alerted to any signs of fatigue and report any concerns to the master or the safety committee without any delay. If any sign of fatigue is reported the master shall take appropriate actions to ensure the seafarer is fit for duty,” it added.