Due to the large number of seafarers who do not yet hold certificates for updated safety training in accordance with the Manila amendments, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has asked that Port State Control organisations take a ‘pragmatic and practical approach’ until 1 July, 2017. While this is simply a request from the IMO, and non-binding, it will ease some concerns about yachts being detained in the first half of 2017 if any of its crew are found to be without the adequate STCW certification.

"The wording of the circular is unclear, but we have understood that it is only advising Port State Control to take a ‘pragmatic approach’ when a seafarer has undertaken their training but does not yet have his or her certificate or endorsement," explains Martyn Oates, policy and research officer at the Isle of Man Ship Registry. "We don’t interpret the circular as applying to seafarers who haven’t yet done their training."

The circular is likely to have been initiated because, due to the new regulations coming into force in the new year, there will be a high volume of new certificates to be issued around this date, which is likely to result in slower than usual processing times.

The circular, MSC.1/Circ.1560, issued by the IMO Maritime Safety Committee, is available to download from the IMO website, and is interesting reading for all management companies and yacht captains. While the exact interpretation of the circular is being debated, it is important to note that it is in no way an extension and the date for the implementation of the STCW Manila amendments remains 1 January, 2017.

From this date, those crew whose Personal Survival Techniques, Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting, Advanced Fire Fighting and Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boats or Advanced Sea Survival are more than five years old will have to complete a full STCW training course. All Certificates of Competency (OOW and Master) are underpinned by the basic STCW safety courses, and without them the Certificates of Competency will become invalid.

“For the past 18 months we have been educating the captains and crew on our managed yachts about the Manila Amendment STCW requirements,” adds Lucy Medd, Crew Manager at Burgess Crew Services. “We urged crew to update their certificates at the beginning of the year but many have left the training until the end of the year. The majority of the crew on our managed yachts who are required to complete the refresher training will have done so before 31 December.”

Sarah Corn, COO of Bluewater Training, however, believes there are still many superyacht crew that have not yet managed to undertake their STCW training, and this is for multiple reasons. “Some crew are only just waking up to the fact that it needs to be refreshed despite the fact that the clue is in the Manila Amendments 2010,” she explains. “Also, the schools are struggling to keep up with demand. We simply cannot offer enough places, both in Antibes and in Palma, and I know that many other schools are completely saturated.” 

This lack of awareness of the new regulations surrounding the STCW convention could have a significant impact on the superyacht industry. While the IMO’s latest circular provides slight reassurance, there is no telling whether Port State Control will abide to this appeal come 1 January, 2017. In the worst-case scenario, non-compliant crewmembers may have to leave a yacht to complete their refresher training in the middle of a busy charter period.

“If there is a reasonably high percentage of crew without up-to-date training, the industry could experience a number of ships being held until suitably qualified personnel become available,” advises Captain Bill Tate, head of MCA Training at UKSA. “There may be some flexibility for those who have been at sea up until or after the 1 January, who may be allowed to work until they leave the ship, but then they must update all their short courses as soon as possible.”

Foreseeing the inevitable difficulties, the Isle of Man Ship Registry has been proactive about this new requirement. “At the beginning of the year, we issued an advisory notice on this subject and have continued to maintain a regular dialogue with clients throughout the year to increase their awareness,” says Director Dick Welsh. “Therefore, we are optimistic that the Isle of Man yacht fleet will be largely unaffected.”

That said, Welsh admits that they have had several clients asking for extensions or dispensations for a small number of crew. “Unfortunately there is no provision in the Convention for this and it is not within the power of any Flag State to grant any latitude,” he explains. “It does not matter how well structured the argument is, the Flag State cannot help, unless there are exceptional and unforeseen circumstances, which could have safety implications for the vessel. This ‘force majeure’ clause would never be used for normal operations.”

While the new requirements for refresher training may have caused upheaval and expense, Welsh emphasises that it is an international requirement that should result in enhanced standards of essential safety skills, even for the most experienced of crew. “Our plea to all crew managers and crewmembers is, therefore: please don’t leave it too late,” he asks. “Book the necessary refresher training and don’t ask your Flag State for a dispensation if it’s too late. We all love to help, but this time we simply cannot."

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