STCW in tune with industry developments

Adam Foster

Adam Foster · 12 July 2016


Nobody would argue that shipping is safer and more environmentally friendly when seafarers are trained to a high level. Unfortunately despite the priority given to training by high level operators, the human factor is often cited as a cause in marine accident investigations. Sometimes a cavalier attitude to training is evident even though an emphasis is placed on particular aspects by port state control and flag state audits. As with all matters relating to ships, the first and foremost authority that can regulate and legislate on the competency of seafarers is the flag state. But just as in most maritime affairs, the basic standards have been agreed by most nations to be the remit of the IMO although the organisation does not issue any certificates or overly concern itself with the way in which training and education is delivered beyond formulation of a number of model courses. Within the structure of the IMO, training matters come under the auspices of the MSC and in particular since the restructuring of the committee framework in 2013 falls to the Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW). This Sub-Committee’s work was formerly dealt with by STW (Standards of Training and Watchkeeping). The IMO’s regulatory role is relatively recent extending back just over three decades and is predominantly contained within The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). In 1977, the IMO (then the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization or IMCO) arranged a conference that was the precursor to the Convention. The intention of the conference was ‘to specify minimum qualifications for training and certification for all grades of officers and crew on board merchant ships with priority for those immediately responsible for the safe navigation and handling of the ship’. IMCO had adopted two recommendations, one on the basic principles and guidelines on the handling of the ship to be observed during watchkeeping and the other on the training and qualifications of officers and crew of ships carrying hazardous or noxious chemicals in bulk. Particular attention was given to the qualifications of the personnel serving on ships carrying hazardous and noxious cargoes and the need for special provisions concerning watchkeeping at sea and in ports, cargo handling and related operations of such ships. In addition IMCO together with the ILO’s Committee on Training was constantly reviewing training requirements for masters, officers and seamen, for the guidance of Governments. The first text for the convention was adopted in 1978 but did not become effective until 1984. The STCW was therefore a response to moves to establish universal minimum training, certification and watchkeeping standards for masters and officers which up to that point were the sole province of flag states. The lack of common standards prior to the STCW meant that there were wide variations in the training of seafarers. STCW 78, as the convention is generally referred to, entered into force with a little over 30 ratifying states. That number has been added to over the years to the point that the latest version STCW 2010 is supported by 159 states representing 98.55% of the world’s merchant fleet by gross tonnage. The changing composition of the world fleet means that although there are now four more signatories than in 2011, the percentage of the world fleet covered has fallen very slightly from a high of 98.9%. Compared to the latest version of STCW, the 1978 text was much slimmer and was contained in six chapters covering general provisions, Master-deck department, Engine department, Radio department, special requirements for tankers and survival craft proficiency. The six main chapters established basic principles covering keeping watches in the various departments alongside mandatory minimum requirements for certificating officers and crew. With regard to the requirements for the radio department, as well as the certification requirements, ITU Radio Regulations and safety radio watchkeeping and maintenance provisions were included as these were also contained in SOLAS. The singling out of tankers in particular was a response to several incidents involving such vessels and to introduce an aspect of pollution prevention. The MARPOL convention was being introduced at approximately the same time as STCW but at that time sewage, garbage and emissions were not included. The regulation on tankers was designed to ensure that officers and ratings who had specific duties related to the cargo and cargo equipment of tankers should have completed an appropriate shore-based fire-fighting course; and have completed either an appropriate period of shipboard service or an approved familiarisation course. Requirements were more stringent for masters and senior officers. The chapter contains three regulations dealing with oil tankers, chemical tankers and liquefied gas tankers, respectively. The inclusion of requirements for proficiency in survival craft in a separate chapter was in recognition of the importance of such equipment – the lack of lifeboats on the Titanic was a major factor behind the development of SOLAS. The requirements and regulation have been added to over the years and ironically are still the matter of much debate at the IMO and in the industry generally due to the number of accidents involving training with survival craft onboard. In addition to the regulatory text, more than 20 recommendatory resolutions were also adopted at the 1978 Conference. As usual with IMO conventions and codes, more detail can be found in the resolutions than in the regulations themselves.
  • Resolution 1 – Basic principles to be observed in keeping a navigational watch. An annex contains a recommendation on operational guidance for officers in charge of a navigational watch.
  • Resolution 2 – Operational guidance for engineer officers in charge of an engineering watch. An annex to the resolution deals with engineering watch underway and at an unsheltered anchorage.
  • Resolution 3 –Principles and operational guidance for deck officers in charge of a watch in port. Detailed recommendations are contained in an annex.
  • Resolution 4 – Principles and operational guidance for engineer officers in charge of an engineering watch in port. Recommendations are in an annex.
  • Resolution 5 – Basic guidelines and operational guidance relating to safety radio watchkeeping and maintenance for radio officers. A comprehensive annex is divided into basic guidelines and safety radio watchkeeping and maintenance.
  • Resolution 6 – Basic guidelines and operational guidance relating to safety radio watchkeeping for radio telephone operators.
  • Resolution 7 – Radio operators. Four recommendations are annexed to this resolution dealing with (i). minimum requirements for certification of radio officers; (ii). minimum requirements to ensure the continued proficiency and updating of knowledge for radio operators; (iii). basic guidelines and operational guidance relating to safety radio watchkeeping and maintenance for radio operators; and (iv). training for radio operators.
  • Resolution 8 – Additional training for ratings forming part of a navigational watch and a recommendation that such ratings be trained in use and operation of appropriate bridge equipment and basic requirements for the prevention of pollution.
  • Resolution 9 – Minimum requirements for a rating nominated as the assistant to the engineer officer in charge of the watch. This recognises that suitable training arrangements are not widely available. Detailed requirements are contained in an annex.
  • Resolution 10 – Training and qualifications of officers and ratings of oil tankers. Refers to resolution 8 adopted by the International Conference on Tanker Safety and Pollution Prevention, 1978 (TSPP), which deals with the improvement of standards of crews on tankers. Recommendation in annex.
  • Resolution 11 – Training and qualifications of officers and ratings of chemical tankers.
  • Resolution 12 – Training and qualifications of masters, officers and ratings of liquefied gas tankers.
  • Resolution 13 – Training and qualifications of officers and ratings of ships carrying dangerous and hazardous cargo other than in bulk.
  • Resolution 14 – Training for radio officers. Detailed recommendations in annex.
  • Resolution 15 – Training for radiotelephone operators.
  • Resolution 16 – Technical assistance for the training and qualifications of masters and other responsible personnel of oil, chemical and liquefied gas tankers. Refers to requirements in several Convention regulations and recognises that training facilities may be limited in some countries. Urges governments which can provide assistance to do so.
  • Resolution 17 – Additional training for masters and chief mates of large ships and of ships with unusual manoeuvring characteristics. Is designed to assist those moving to ships of this type from smaller vessels, where characteristics may be quite different.
  • Resolution 18 – Radar simulator training. Recommended that such training be given to all masters and deck officers.
  • Resolution 19 – Training of seafarers in personal survival techniques. Details contained in an annex. Resolution 20 – Training in the use of collision avoidance aids.
  • Resolution 21 – International Certificate of Competency. IMO was invited to develop a standard form and title for this certificate.
  • Resolution 22 – Human relationships. Emphasises the importance to safety of good human relationships between seafarers on board.
  • Resolution 23 – Promotion of technical co-operation. Records appreciation of IMO’s work in assisting developing countries to establish maritime training facilities in conformity with global standards of training and invites the organization to intensify its efforts with a view to promoting universal acceptance and implementation of the STCW Convention.
Training and certification matters were constantly on the agenda just as they are today. In 1991 the Convention was amended by resolution MSC.21(59) to take into account the impending GMDSS regulations entering into force in December 1992 and under which radical changes to ship communications would be introduced and the role of radio officer would disappear on most merchant vessels. In 1994 amendments contained in resolution MSC.33(63) replaced the chapter on special training for crews on tankers and extended it to cover ro-ro passenger vessels. This was in response to incidents involving passenger ferries such as the Herald of Free Enterprise and Estonia tragedies. The regulation referred to masters, officers, ratings and other personnel on ro-ro passenger vessels thus bringing cafeteria, entertainment staff and similar personnel under the STCW. Mostly these personnel are called on in emergencies and are tasked with issuing lifejackets, directing passengers and crowd control.

1995 - A new convention and a code

By 1995 several criticisms and suggested changes were taken into account in a major revision to the convention adopted at a purposely convened conference. One of the criticisms levelled at the 1978 Convention was that it was not being interpreted consistently and much of the wording was vague. This was a period before the goal-based philosophy was in vogue and when much IMO regulation was prescriptive. The conference concluded with 14 resolutions. Resolution 1 and 2 were the adoption of the final text and the STCW Code. The other 12 covered a variety of topics and included some for incorporation into the new text and some future ambitions:
  • Resolution 3: Transitional provisions – covering arrangements for the recognition of existing certificates and a five year introduction programme
  • Resolution 4: Training of radio operators for the global maritime distress and safety system (GMDSS)
  • Resolution 5: Training in crisis management and human behaviour for personnel serving on board ro-ro passenger ships
  • Resolution 6: Training of personnel on passenger ships
  • Resolution 7: Monitoring the implications of alternative certification
  • Resolution 8: Promotion of the technical knowledge, skills and professionalism of seafarers
  • Resolution 9: Development of international standards of medical fitness for seafarers
  • Resolution 10: Training of maritime pilots, vessel traffic service personnel and maritime personnel employed on mobile offshore units
  • Resolution 11: Promotion of technical co-operation
  • Resolution 12: Contribution of the World Maritime University (WMU) in the achievement of enhanced standards of maritime training
  • Resolution 13: Revision of model courses published by the IMO
  • Resolution 14: Promotion of the participation of women in the maritime industry.
The 1995 amendments entered into force on 1 February 1997. One of the major features of the revision was the division of the technical annex into regulations, divided into Chapters as before, and a new STCW Code, to which many technical regulations were transferred. Part A of the Code is mandatory while Part B is recommended. The introduction of the Code meant that future major changes could be put in place easier by MSC resolutions rather than a special Conference. The competencies required break down into three categories; management, operational and support. Management level is defined as the level of responsibility associated with serving as master, chief mate, chief engineer officer or second engineer on board a seagoing ship, and ensuring that all functions within the designated area of responsibility are properly performed. Operational level is the level of responsibility associated with serving as officer in charge of a navigational or engineering watch or as designated duty engineer for periodically unmanned machinery spaces or as radio operator on board a seagoing ship, and maintaining direct control over the performance of all functions within the designated area of responsibility in accordance with proper procedures and under the direction of an individual serving in the management level for that area of responsibility; The lower support level is defined as the level of responsibility associated with performing assigned tasks, duties or responsibilities on board a seagoing ship under the direction of an individual serving in the operational or management level. The minimum standards of competence required for seagoing personnel are given in detail in a series of tables following each individual regulation. The tables are arranged over four columns. The first list the various competencies, the second details the knowledge, understanding and proficiencies needed associated with it, the third is the method for demonstrating competence and the final column the criteria for evaluating competence. The Convention and Code of 1995 extended Chapter VI which was original concerned with survival craft proficiency to cover ‘Emergency, occupational safety, medical care and survival functions’. Two new chapters were added covering alternative certification and watchkeeping. Alternative certification enables crews to gain training and certification in various departments of seafaring rather than being confined to one branch for their entire career. The new rules on watchkeeping were aimed at preventing fatigue and required flag states to establish and enforce rest periods for watchkeepers and to regulate watch systems so as to ensure the efficiency of personnel is not impaired. The 1995 Convention Chapter I, regulation I/4 established new procedures allowing port state authorities to intervene in the case of deficiencies deemed to pose a danger to persons, property or the environment. This right is restricted to ensuring crew certificates are in order or if there is an incident such as collision, grounding or pollution. Flag states were required to ensure that training, certification and other procedures are continuously monitored by means of a quality standards system (regulation I/8) and were required to establish procedures for investigating acts by persons to whom they have issued certificates that endanger safety or the environment. Penalties and other disciplinary measures must be prescribed and enforced where the Convention is not complied with. The 1995 convention recognised the use of simulators for training and assessment purposes and in particular made their use mandatory for training in the use of radar and automatic radar plotting aids (regulation I/12 and section A-I/12 of the STCW Code). Another major change was the requirement under Chapter I, regulation I/7 for flag states to provide detailed information to IMO concerning administrative measures taken to ensure compliance. This was a major departure from the earlier text and is one of the few instances where the IMO has a policing role. The information that flag states must supply covers education and training courses, certification procedures and other factors relevant to implementation. The information is reviewed by panels of competent persons, nominated by parties to the Convention, who report on their findings via the Secretary-General to the MSC. Those states that are confirmed as meeting the requirements are included on a list of ‘confirmed parties’ more commonly known as the White List. By 1 August 1998, 82 out of the 133 STCW Parties had communicated information on compliance with the requirements of the revised Convention but the first list of countries approved at MSC 73 in December 2000 included only 71 countries and one Associate Member of IMO. By 2013, the number had expanded to around 130 countries. A full list can be found at the IMO website. For a flag state to remain on the White List its performance must be re-evaluated by the panel of experts every five years. Should it be found that, at the time of the re-evaluation that the country is not giving full and effective compliance to the convention, its name will be removed. Countries that do not make the white list can still issue certificates to seafarers and these may be recognised by other states, but the omission from the white list can have a very detrimental effect on ships under the flag because the likelihood that they will be targeted by port state control is very high. For individual seafarers the opportunity to find work on other flag vessels may be reduced. The seafarer can apply to the flag state to have his or her certificates endorsed as being recognised and thus permitting employment but if the request is refused then they will have to consider completing the certification requirements of the flag state or else seek other employment. Even countries on the White List cannot demand automatic acceptance of their seafarers’ certificates by other flag states. Although the right to accept other nation’s certification lies technically with the flag state, in the EU the European Commission, under an EU Directive, is responsible for approving non-EU training systems recognised by EU flag states – this duty has been delegated to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). This process has seen Georgia subject to a two year ban – now rescinded and a threat still hangs over the Philippines. It is now almost ten years since an EMSA audit revealed deficiencies in some of the training establishments in the country that supplies around one in five of all the world’s seafarers. As a consequence a threat of a ban on Filippino officers serving on EU-flagged ships was a real possibility however, after numerous audits and the closures of some training establishments the threat has now been lifted.

More changes

The first changes to the 1995 Convention and Code were adopted in 1997 simultaneous with the 1995 amendments coming into effect. The changes were connected with the additional requirements for ro-ro passenger ships extending them to other passenger vessels. The amendments included an additional Regulation V/3 in Chapter V on Mandatory minimum requirements for the training and qualifications of masters, officers, ratings and other personnel. Related additions to the STCW Code, covered Crowd management training; Familiarisation training; Safety training for personnel providing direct service to passengers in passenger spaces; Passenger safety; and Crisis management and human behaviour training. In December 1998 amendments that would come into effect in 2003 were adopted. These were aimed at improving minimum standards of competence of crews, in particular relating to cargo securing, loading and unloading on bulk carriers. The amendments concern sections A-II/1 and A-II/2 under “Cargo handling and stowage at the operational and management levels”. Amendments adopted in 2006 came into effect on 1 January 2008 and concerned two topics. The first was related to the ISPS Code and introduced minimum mandatory training and certification requirements for persons to be designated as ship security officers (SSOs). The amendments to the Convention and to both parts of the STCW Code included requirements for the issue of certificates of proficiency for Ship Security Officers; specifications of minimum standards of proficiency for ship security officers; and guidance regarding training for Ship Security Officers. The second amendment was to part A of the Code and added additional training requirements for the launching and recovery of fast rescue boats as a consequence of numerous incidents involving injuries incurred during the launching and recovery of fast rescue boats in adverse weather conditions.

2010 - The Manila Amendments

A second comprehensive review of the Convention and Code was initiated by the IMO in 2007 and at a special conference held in Manila, Philippines in June 2010 a number of major amendments and new additions from the review were adopted – because of where the conference was held these changes are commonly referred to as the Manila Amendments. A new edition of the Convention and the Code dated 2010 was drawn up and became effective on 1 January 2012. Among the changes now included are:
  • Improved measures to prevent fraudulent practices associated with certificates of competency and strengthened evaluation process (monitoring of Parties’ compliance with the Convention) Refresher training made mandatory. All seafarers are now required to provide evidence of appropriate levels of competence in basic safety training (including survival, fire-fighting, first aid, and personal safety) at five year intervals.
  • Revised requirements on hours of work and rest bringing STCW into line with MLC 2006, and new requirements for the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as updated standards relating to medical fitness for seafarers
  • New certification requirements for able seafarers including introduction of new grades of ‘Able Seafarer Deck’ and ‘Able Seafarer Engine’. These were in addition to the then current navigational and engine watch rating requirements which are otherwise unchanged
  • New requirements relating to training in modern technology such as ECDIS
  • New requirements for marine environment awareness training and training in leadership and teamwork
  • New training and certification requirements for Electro-Technical Officers and Electro-Technical Rating Updating of competence requirements for personnel serving on board all types of tankers, including new requirements for personnel serving on liquefied gas tankers
  • New requirements for security training, as well as provisions to ensure that seafarers are properly trained to cope if their ship comes under attack by pirates
  • Introduction of modern training methodology including distance learning and web-based learning
  • New requirement for all deck and engine rating trainees to demonstrate competence through the use of on board training record books, with completion supervised by officers responsible for on board training (in addition to the existing requirements applicable to officer trainees)
  • New training guidance for personnel serving on board ships operating in polar waters New training guidance for personnel operating Dynamic Positioning Systems
Under STCW 2010, flag states have some leeway as to when the requirements become effective beyond the 2012 coming into force date of the Convention. Generally it should be considered that seafarers holding STCW certificates issued prior to 1 January 2012 will have to meet the new requirements, including new refresher training, in order for their certificates to be revalidated beyond 1 January 2017 but in all cases clarification should be sought from the issuing authority. The requirement for security training applied to all seafarers from I January 2014 and should now have been allowed for in ship operators’ ISPS procedures. Medical Certificates can continue to be issued in accordance with the existing requirements until 2017 after which all medical certificates must be in accord with the 2010 standards. As with the training and competency requirements, some flag states may introduce the new requirement earlier. Although not a training issue, the seafarer working time changes included in STCW 2010 that entered into force in January 2012 increase the minimum amount of rest from 70 hours to 77 hours in any seven day period. Seafarers must always have 10 hours rest in any 24 hour period with no exceptions, except during an emergency and it became mandatory for seafarers’ hours to be recorded on board and confirmed by the individual seafarer on a monthly basis.

Requirements for new codes

Regulation of training seems to have accelerated recently as new IMO Codes have come into effect that have brought with them requirements for additional training beyond what was already contained in STCW. 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 cyber security training. More recently the Polar Code 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 have an entry into force date of 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 on-board. The following tables detail the certificates issued under STCW and the various limitations and tonnage thresholds that apply; 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 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). 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.
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