Recently, speaking in Manila, the Chairman of ICS, Esben Poulsson, called for a revision of the IMO STCW Convention, which governs global standards for the training and certification of about two million merchant seafarers.

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Now, the European Council's new position aspires to change the centralised mechanism for the recognition of seafarers from third countries, in order to increase its efficiency and effectiveness.

It will also increase legal clarity regarding the mutual recognition of seafarers' certificates issued by member states.

The human factor is a vital element for safety at sea, and high-level training for seafarers is essential to minimise all risks. These revised rules will simplify procedures while making sure we maintain the highest standards

The EU noted.

Speaking on the amendment, Norbert Hofer, Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology of Austria, said that the Commission must check that EU member states and third countries comply with the requirements of the EU directive and the STCW Convention. He also added that the amended directive would streamline the procedure for recognising new third countries and revise the deadlines.

As for the recognition of other member states' seafarers, the new rules clarify which certificates need to be mutually recognised so as to allow seafarers certified by one EU country to work on board vessels flying another EU country's flag.

According to the Council text, member states would have three years to adopt national provisions to put the new rules into practice.

The general approach forms the Council's position for negotiations with the European Parliament. Both institutions have to approve the text before it can enter into force.

Specifically, the Commission proposed the following to the European Parliament and to the Council:

  • A new article which incorporates the scheme for the mutual recognition of seafarers' certificates issued by the Member States contained in Article 3 of Directive 2005/45/EC, clarifying which certificates shall be recognised mutually for the purpose of allowing seafarers' certified by one Member State to work on board vessels flying the flag of another Member State;
  • New amendments to the STCW Convention regarding new training and qualification requirements for seafarers working on board passenger ships and ships falling under the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels ('the IGF Code') and the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters ('the Polar Code'), including new definitions (Articles 1 and 12 and Annex I);
  • New procedural step with an implementing decision to initiate the procedure for recognising new third countries to allow the requesting Member State to present the reasons for submitting the recognition request, while all Member States will have an opportunity to discuss and decide on the request (Article 19);
  • Extension of the deadline for adopting a decision on the recognition of the third country from 18 months to 24 months or, in certain cases, to 36 months (Article 19);
  • Introduction of a distinctive reason to withdraw the recognition of a third country on the basis that that country has not provided any seafarers for at least five years to the EU fleet (Article 20);
  • Extension of the interval for the reassessment of third countries to up to 10 years on the basis of priority criteria (Article 21);
  • Amendment to Article 27 in order to empower the Commission to amend, through delegated acts, the necessary provisions of Directive 2008/106/EC so that they can be aligned with future amendments to the STCW Convention and Code.

The Shipping Working Party analyzed the proposal during the second semester of 2018. While the Commission's proposal was welcomed and supported, the Shipping Working Party agreed on several amendments. These are:

  • Broader language on the information to be submitted by a Member State who requests the recognition of a third country. Delegations consider that an "estimation of the number of masters and officers from that country likely to be employed", as proposed by the Commission, is too specific and not necessarily decisive; a reference to general information on the reasons for the recognition request, without specification, is more appropriate;
  • The deadline for adopting a decision on the recognition of a third country of 24 months or, in certain cases, 36 months, should be counted from the date of submission of a recognition request by a Member State and not from the date of adoption of a decision to initiate the recognition procedure by the Commission; furthermore, it is specified that the decision by the Commission to initiate recognition of a third country should be taken within a reasonable time with due regard to that deadline;
  • Regarding the withdrawal of recognition of a third country, this should not be done automatically only because that third country has not provided any seafarers to the EU fleet during a certain time; the recognition should be re-examined if the third country has not provided seafarers to the EU fleet during seven years (not five years as proposed by the Commission);
  • Regarding delegated acts, the empowerment of the Commission should only cover mandatory international instruments, and it has been specified that it should only cover the STCW Convention and the mandatory Part A of the STCW Code; furthermore, the Commission's power to adopt delegated acts has been limited in time to five years;
  • Extension of the transposition period for the Directive to 36 months, instead of 12.

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