New Rules for Seafarers

The Commission has presented a legislative proposal on the training of seafarers. The new proposal, which amends the current Directive governing this area (Directive 2008/106/EC), has the function of bringing EU law into line with new internationally agreed standards of medical fitness, security-related training and professional profiles of seafarers.

The international rules are laid down in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (the STCW Convention). The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) concluded the Convention in 1978. It concerns the minimum requirements for training of seafarers (mainly officers) and their certification.

EU law must be updated to apply the STCW Convention’s requirements to seafarers who work on EU-flagged ships. The current proposal is to apply the changes agreed at the Manila Conference in 2010. The “Manila amendments” are due to enter into force this coming January. Maritime training will then have to meet the new standards throughout the whole EU.

The Manila Amendments

The current proposal is based on the 2010 amendments to the STCW Convention, which include the following issues: (1) updated standards for medical fitness, fitness for duty and alcohol abuse; (2) introduction of new certification requirements for able seafarers and establishment of new professional profiles, such as "electro-technical officers"; (3) security-related training for all seafarers; (4) clearer and simpler types of certificates; (5) updated requirements for personnel on certain types of ships; (6) strengthened provisions on watchkeeping personnel.

Member States would have to ensure that certificates are issued only to candidates complying with the provisions of the expected Directive. Similarly, endorsements would be issued only if they comply with the rules set out by the STCW Convention and the expected Directive.

Each candidate for certification would be obliged to give satisfactory proof with regard to his: (1) identity; (2) age; (3) medical fitness; (4) training; and (5) competences.

Member State would have to keep a register of all certificates and endorsements for masters and officers. It also would have to make available information on these documents to other Member States or other Parties to the Convention and relevant companies. Member State would make available the information indicated in Annex V to this Directive to the Commission for statistical analysis.

The proposal establishes that Member States take necessary actions for the impartial investigation of any incompetence, act, omission or compromise to security, which would threaten safety of life, property at sea or the marine environment.

They also would be obliged to take measures to prevent unlawful practices, including fraud, with regard to certificates and endorsements. Member States would have to provide information to seafarers on the recent changes in national and international regulations concerning the maritime safety and security.

The draft Directive introduces new mandatory minimum certification requirements for able seafarers and electro-technical officers (newly created professional profile). The requirements for able seafarers are as follows: (1) be 18 years old or older; (2) meet the requirements for certification as a rating to work in a manned engine-room or in a periodically unmanned engine-room; (3) have work experience in the engine department of not less than 12 months (or not less than 6 months and have completed necessary training), and meet the competence standards set out in the STCW Convention.

With regard to electro-technical officers, they would have to meet the following requirements for certification: (1) be 18 years old or older; (2) have completed not less than 12 months of combined workshop skills training and seagoing service; (3) have completed necessary education and training as well as meet the competence standards set out in the STCW Convention.

According to the proposal, Member State would have to establish standards of medical fitness for seafarers and to ensure that only recognised medical practitioners would assess the medical fitness of seafarers. Every seafarer would have to hold a medical certificate that would be valid for not more than two years.

The proposal sets out the following requirements for candidates to be certified: (1) be 16 years old or older; (2) provide satisfactory proof of his identity; and (3) meet necessary medical fitness standards. 

The proposal requires member States to establish and enforce appropriate watch schedules and rest periods for watchkeeping personnel as well as those who duties relate to safety, security and prevention of pollution in order to prevent fatigue.

The minimum requirements for the rest period for watchkeeping personnel would be the following: (1) a minimum of 10 hours of rest in any 24-hour period; (2) 77 hours in any 7-day period. However, these requirements could not be maintained in the case of emergency and overriding operational conditions. Member States would have a right to authorise or register collective agreements that permit exceptions to the required hours of rest provided that the overall rest period is no less than 70 Hours in any 7-day period.

Additional Amendments

Besides the amendments to the STCW Convention, the Commission introduces three new developments that aim to improve legal provisions on seafarers.

First of all, the proposal aims to extend the Commission’s deadline for the recognition of third countries following a request by a Member State, as set out by Article 19(3) of the Directive 2008/106.

Currently, the Commission, with the support of the European Maritime Safety Agency (the EMSA), have only three months to decide whether a non-EU country complies with the requirements of the STCW Convention. According to the Commission, this deadline does not allow for a proper inspection of a third country by the EMSA. In addition, the current deadline very often does not give enough time for a third country to introduce necessary corrections to its legislation or practice to meet the Commission’s recommendations.

Therefore, due to the current timeframe, put in place by the Directive 2008/106, the Commission proposes to set down a new deadline for the recognition of third countries, of eighteen months instead of three months.

Secondly, the proposal foresees a new requirement for Member States to provide already existing information on certificates of competency, endorsements, maritime colleges and fraudulent practices to the Commission for the purpose of statistical analysis.

The goal of the Commission is to collect this information from the national registries in a harmonised and consistent format using the EMSA “STCW Information System”. This would allow for a complete and accurate collection and analysis of data on seafarers.

Finally, the proposal aims to adapt to new changes in “comitology” mechanism introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon.

Next Steps

The proposal for a Directive on the training of seafarers will now be sent to the European Parliament and the Council for examination. The institutions are expected to reach a first reading agreement on the proposal.