MANILA — Filipino seafarers do not need to fear for their jobs on European Union (EU)-flagged vessels, the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) said.
Sonia Malaluan, MARINA OIC deputy administrator for planning, said Friday the agency is still waiting for the decision of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) on the Philippines’ compliance with the EU’s training, certification and watchkeeping standards for seafarers.
The MARINA had already passed its response to the EMSA back in March, which included reforms it is implementing in monitoring maritime schools and training centers—the area most critiqued by the European agency’s audit.
Malaluan said the EMSA’s decision on whether it would ban or allow Filipinos to continue serving on EU vessels could come out in 2023.
”Wala po tayong dapat ikaalarma ngayon,” she told TeleRadyo.
(There is nothing to be alarmed about now.)
“Wala pa ngang desisyon. Wala pang indikasyon. Ang sagot po sa’min ng EMSA, sa dami ng dokumentong sinubmit noong March, it will take them longer to evaluate and assess kung katanggap-tanggap ang ating mga sinubmit. And to mention—200 pages of the main document, plus hundreds of supporting documents.”
(There is still no decision or indication of one. The EMSA told us, with the volume of documents submitted last March, it will take them longer to evaluate and assess if our submissions are sufficient. And to mention—200 pages of the main document, plus hundreds of supporting documents.”)
The EMSA had been flagging issues in the Philippines’ standards compliance in 7 audits since 2006.
Its last assessment in 2020, done before the COVID-19 pandemic, found 23 deficiencies which the EU said needed to be addressed this year or risk a seafarer ban.
Around 50,000 Filipino maritime officers serve on EU-flagged ships, according to MARINA.
An EU ban will prevent new maritime applicants from the Philippines from applying to European ships.
Seafarers with ongoing contracts will be allowed to finish their service.
However, Malaluan noted the number of deficiencies the EMSA found has already decreased over the years, from 158 in 2006, to 116 in 2013, to 42 in 2017, and 23 in 2020.
She added MARINA, which is mandated to implement the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), has been carrying out its own reforms.
“Without EMSA, without findings of other organizations, we should keep improving the quality of our seafarers,” she said.
“We are not dine-dedma ‘yan (turning a deaf ear to it). I can assure you MARINA is indeed really addressing all of this and implementing strategic initiatives to improve the system.”
Seafarers and sectoral groups have expressed concern over the Philippines’ inability to comply with the EMSA’s standards for over a decade.
Captain Edgardo Flores, general manager of Eastern Mediterranean Manning Agency, Inc., said none of the recommendations to improve maritime training have been implemented.
He fears an EU ban on Filipino seafarers could lead to a “domino effect” in other countries.
“We must not forget mayroon tayong competitor. Baka ‘yong competitor, dahil hindi ire-recognize ng European community ang ating certificate, pati sila hindi i-recognize ang ating certificate, hindi tayo makakapunta sa ating puerto,” Flores told TeleRadyo on Thursday.
(We must not forget we have competitors. If the European community will not recognize our certificates, even they could do that as well and we would not be able to come to their ports.)
He added the public should also be concerned about the ramifications of a possible ban that would not only affect their industry.
“Kami sa manning agency magkakaroon kami ng malaking problema kapag hindi kami nakapag-supply ng mga marino, and hindi lang ito ang problema natin, ang seaman,” he said.
“Ang nakikita lang natin problema ng seaman. Ang hindi natin nakikita overall, maaapektuhan ang ating remittances, kasi anlaki ng mga suweldo ng mga opisyal na ‘yan. Maaapektuhan ang contribution, maaapektuhan ang sektor na konektado dito sa shipping.”
(We at the manning agency will face a huge problem when we can no longer supply mariners. And seamen are not the only ones facing it. We only see that, but we do not see overall how the ban can affect our remittances. These officers have big salaries. Their contribution will be affected, along with the shipping sector.)
Seafarers contribute $6 billion to the Philippine economy, the Department of Transportation said.
Engr. Xavier Bayoneta, chairperson of the Concerned Seafarers of the Philippines, appealed to the government to undertake a review and overhaul of the MARINA and the country’s standards compliance.
“Alarma na ito sa amin, ano. Talagang, siguro dati hindi sineseryoso, pero sa ngayon, oras na magsara ang pinto ng EMSA para sa Filipino seafarers na kukunin nila, talagang papalitan tayo ng ibang nationality tulad ng sinasabi ng Eastern Europe, Indonesia, India, at iba pa, Vietnam,” he said.
(It’s alarming for us. It may not have been taken seriously before. But now, when EMSA closes its doors on Filipino seafarers, they could replace us with other nationalities like those from Eastern Europe, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and others.)
Bayoneta called for a person with a seafaring background to run MARINA.
However, Malaluan said this was not necessary, since the agency’s reach extends beyond seafaring issues.
She added there are more than 30 ship officers, deck and engine assessors, and examiners already serving in MARINA.
PH GOV’T TO ‘DO ALL IT CAN’
Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista said the government has long been working to pass the EMSA evaluation and avoid a ban.
"Sisiguruhin natin ‘di tayo babagsak. Gagawin natin lahat ng ating makakaya para mapanatili natin ‘yong mga certifications ng ating seafarers,” he told TeleRadyo on Thursday.
(We will ensure we will not fail. We will do all we can to keep the certifications of our seafarers.)
Bautista previously said he has been meeting with European envoys and representatives of EU shipping firms to smooth over the issue.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has directed government agencies to create a joint implementation plan to address the concerns.
Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) secretary Susan Ople said the DoTr will lead the team which includes the DMW, MARINA and the Commission on Higher Education.
“The President is very keen in ensuring that the employment of our seafarers, their general welfare, standards of training and certification are compliant and in fulfillment with international standards, whether EU-set or IMO-set dahil ang issue din dito ay maritime safety and of course ‘yong rights and welfare ng seafarers natin,” Ople said in a press conference Friday.
(The issue here is maritime safety and of course our seafarers’ rights and welfare.)
Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros in a statement applauded the president’s initial action, which she described as a long overdue response to a recurring problem.
Hontiveros added she will file a resolution calling for a Senate inquiry on better protecting seafarers and avoiding this situation again.
“Importante na makonsulta mismo ang mga seafarers natin at makasama sila sa lahat ng mga repormang gagawin, dahil sa huli, sila talaga ang apektado, kasama ang kanilang mga mahal sa buhay,” she said.
(It is important that our seafarers are consulted and made part of all the reforms implemented because, in the end, they are the ones most affected, along with their loved ones.)