Additional training required by seafarers

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 14 January 2017


In recent years a number of new roles have been regulated for on board ship that go beyond the ranks and skills that STCW was initially devised to include. This began with GMDSS which added a requirement for additional training for all GMDSS operators needed to replace the defunct radio operator training of pre-GMDSS days.

The next requirements came under the ISM and ISPS Codes which brought with them the new positions of Safety Officer and Security Officer respectively.

The latter position looks to be further evolving and may soon include an element of training. More recently the and the Gas Fuel Code have been adopted and these make specific mention of training.

In the Polar Code, a whole Chapter (Chapter 12) is devoted to manning and training. Although not a particularly long chapter, there are requirements contained in it that have major implications for training budgets for ships operating in Polar waters. For example, it demands that ```while operating in polar waters the ship has sufficient number of persons meeting the appropriate training requirements for polar waters to cover all watches’ (Regulation``` This would normally mean at least three persons having to undergo advanced training in ice navigation in each crew.

In 2015 the IMO adopted IGF Code adopted the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code), along with amendments to make the Code mandatory under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

The use of gas as fuel, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG), has increased in recent years but until the adoption of the IGF Code, each ship was treated as a special case by its flag state. Hence there were no universal regulations governing the use of LNG and other gaseous fuels. Simultaneous with the adoption of the IGF Code, the MSC also adopted related amendments to the STCW Code, to include new mandatory minimum requirements for the training and qualifications of masters, officers, ratings and other personnel on ships subject to the IGF Code. The amendments became effective on 1 January 2017, in line with the SOLAS amendments related to the IGF Code.

Certificates and documents

Many of the documents issued to seafarers will be called certificates and all will have a level of importance. Medical certificates are needed to prove fitness to serve at sea but it is the Certificate of Competence (CoC) which is of prime importance in determining what opportunities are available to any seafarer.

A Certificate of Competence is issued to masters, officers, radio operators and ratings forming part of a watch who meet the standards of competence relevant to their particular functions and level of responsibility onboard.

The format of certificates is laid down in STCW and while in an ideal world such certificates should be accepted without reservation, the massive problem of fraudulent certificates has resulted in the 2010 STCW Convention containing a regulation (I/2) which tightens the endorsement process. Under STCW all IMO members should have had online databases by January 2017. Flags are also urged to improve measures to prevent CoC fraud.

Backing up the CoCs are certificates of proficiency issued to certify that a seafarer has met the required standard of competence in a specific duty. These certificates include certificates for personnel serving on certain types of ship (tankers, and passenger ships) and for those assigned with safety, security and pollution prevention duties. It certifies that the holder meets STCW standards of competence in specific functions related to safety, care of persons, or cargo.

Other documents may not be recognised under STCW but do have value in certain circumstances. These include documents issued by the shipowner or master of the vessel to attest that the seafarer has participated in a safety drill or has completed some type of training (for example familiarisation training).

Dynamic positioning certificates also come under this category. Whilst the security officer will require a certificate of proficiency, security familiarisation and security awareness are ship specific requirements that will require the seafarer to have documentary evidence.

As is the case with the seafarer with designated security duties, it is the company’s or security officers’ responsibility to ensure crew are trained to the minimum standard within the amended convention and have the appropriate documentary evidence.

It is now required that all endorsements are only issued by the administration after fully verifying the authenticity of any certificates and documentary evidence, and the candidate has fulfilled all requirements and has the standard of competence for the capacity identified in the endorsement. There is also a requirement to ensure there is proper approval of the equivalent seagoing service and training and also to maintain a database of certification registration with a controlled electronic access. This endorsement certificate is issued by an administration as an official recognition of the validity of a certificate issued by another administration.

This procedure is necessary to allow for foreign seafarers on a nation’s ships. Under the 2010-amended STCW Convention regulation I/2 all seafarers serving on foreign ships must obtain an endorsement.

Seafarer’s, or crewing agents acting on their behalf, will need to determine what documents are necessary and to submit them to the flag state. Some flag states require the seafarer present documents in person but others allow for postal applications.

An STCW endorsement of recognition can only be issued by a flag state provided that the certificate being recognised was issued in accordance with STCW requirements and the original certificate presented is genuine. To verify that the certificate in question has been issued in accordance with all requirements of the convention, an administration should inspect the training facilities and certification procedures of another administration.

At MSC 96 in 2016 amendments to STCW relating to the Polar Code were approved and adopted at MSC 97 in November 2016 and on entry into force on 1 July 2018, the amendments:

  1. require masters, chief mates and officers in charge of a navigational watch on ships operating in “open waters” in Arctic waters and/or the Antarctic area (i.e. Polar Waters) to hold a certificate in basic training for ships operating in Polar Waters after satisfactorily completing approved basic training and meet the specified standard of competence.
  2. require masters and chief mates on ships operating in Polar Waters, to hold a certificate in advanced training for ships operating in Polar Waters, other than “open waters” after satisfactorily:
  3. meeting requirements for certification in basic training for ships in Polar Waters completing at least two months of approved seagoing service in the deck department, at management level or while performing watchkeeping duties at the operational level; and
  4. completing approved advanced training for ships operating in Polar Waters and meet the specified standard of competence.
  5. provide for transitional provisions which allow seafarers, who commenced approved seagoing service in Polar Waters prior to 1 July 2018, to meet alternative basic training or advanced requirements by 1 July 2020.

Masters and deck officers on ships operating in Polar Waters are required to demonstrate competence in:

  1. Contribute to safe operation and manoeuvring of vessels operating in Polar Waters
  2. Monitor and ensure compliance with legislative requirements
  3. Apply safe working practices, respond to emergencies
  4. Ensure compliance with pollution- prevention requirements and prevent environmental hazards
  5. Planning and conducting a voyage in Polar Waters
  6. Manage the safe operation of vessels operating in Polar Waters
  7. Maintain safety of the ship's crew and passengers and the operational condition of life-saving, firefighting and other safety systems
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