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Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping

STCW Code History

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) held a convention to improve the worldwide standards for safety and training of professional mariners in 1978. The Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) Convention established a code adopted by many nations on July 7, 1978 and was named the Seafarers Training, Certification, & Watchkeeping (STCW) Code. Subsequent conventions were held in 1991, 1994, 1995 & 1997, and most recently in 2010 to update & revise the code. The latest code update is referred to as STCW, as amended, and represents the most current revisions also commonly known as the manila amendments for the location of the most recent signing and adoption of the revisions in 2010. Technically it is still the STCW 78 Code, as amended. This new code supersedes the STCW 95 code that many mariners are already familiar with which represented the largest revisions since its genesis in 1978.

Purpose of the STCW Code

The Code was established to set certain minimum international training standards for professional mariners. The level of certification and training you are required to have is based on the capacity you serve in & the type of vessel you work on.

Who does the STCW Code affect?

There are 133 IMO signatory countries in the world. Every country will issue a document showing the level of mariner certification and the capacity and limitations of each.

All professional mariner certifications must be STCW, as amended, Compliant with the exception of U.S. mariners working exclusively on inland waters or domestic near coastal waters on vessels up to 200 gross tons waters, or certain other exempted vessels, which are exempt from the STCW requirements.

What about unlicensed crewmembers?

All professional mariners that have designated safety or pollution prevention duties (even if they are unlicensed/ non certificated) must have Basic Safety Training. This would include everyone listed on the emergency bill, also called the muster list or station bill. As of January 2014, all seafarers must also have Security Training that is commensurate with their specific duties. Maritime Security Awareness for all seafarers that do NOT have security duties, or Vessel Security for Personnel with Security Duties or ISPS Ship Security Officer for those responsible for vessel security on the ship security plan. The highest level supersedes all other levels of security training.

How will the new certificates indicate compliance with the latest version of the code?

Most maritime administrations recognize that this may be difficult to be certain about for the near future as each country implements the amendments into their training regimes and each training provider receives approval for the changes in curriculum. Also because many portions of the code were not amended in 2010 and are therefore still appropriately taught at the 1995 level which causes further port state control confusion.

Each administration that MPT is approved by has issued policy and guidance on how to word the new training certificates to show that they are in compliance with the latest version of the STCW Code. The consensus is that the official code was signed in 1978 and since then there have been a number of amendments. Therefore, a training certificate in compliance with 2010 manila amendments that supersedes the 1995 amendments would correctly read "STCW Code 1978, as amended." We realize that this may cause confusion and until it becomes clear will endeavor to have our certificates read STCW Code, as amended without a specific year listed. Unfortunately, most mariners recognized the 1995 code as the updated version but that is no longer the case for many sections of the code and to avoid the same confusion in the future, the IMO is not recommending documents to list the year of the amendments but rather simply the term "as amended". We are hopeful that the coast guard administrations will allow us and other schools to list the year of amendment which we feel would alleviate the confusion, such as STCW 1978 as amended in 2010, etc.

If you have a crew member with a training certificate and you are uncertain as to whether it is up to date and in compliance with the latest version of the code where appropriate, please contact the school that issued the training certificate or the maritime administration who approved the course.

Which courses do I need to obtain STCW compliance?

Please contact the MPT Student Services Department for assistance in this area or refer to the Professional Certificates & Licenses section of this website for detailed information on the courses and sea service required to obtain STCW Compliant Licenses and Certificates of Competency for your maritime administration. If you already hold a USCG license, but have not taken the training to obtain an STCW Compliant Certificate, please contact MPT for a current required course list for your license level.

Why was the Code Revised?

Flick through the pages of any of the leading industry magazines today and you will discover a wealth of technical innovation designed to make ships more efficient and safer. Everything from the propulsion systems, through the hull design to the navigation suite is the result of intense research and development activity. The only exception to this rule is, ironically, the one key component on which everything else so often depends â€" the officers and crew.

It is widely quoted that 80 per cent of transport accidents are due to human error. It is the human element on board ship that can either provide the skills that may prevent a disaster, or the frailty or plain lack of competence that can cause one. And, while the capability, complexity and sheer power of technology seems to be accelerating exponentially, the human element remains a basic component with all its strengths and all its weaknesses. That is why the international maritime community has now evolved from an approach, which traditionally seeks technical solutions to safety-related problems and is focusing instead on the role of human factors in maritime safety.

The STCW Convention is one of several key initiatives that underpin this new philosophy at IMO. It seeks to establish a baseline standard for the training and education of seafarers throughout the world and, by placing an emphasis on quality control and competence-based training, and practical demonstrations of competency in the form of training record books and assessments conducted by qualified assessors onboard the ship or at your maritime school. It establishes a structure that can ensure not only that the required standard is met, but that it can be proven that it was met. (parts Excerpted from the IMO website).

Why doesn't one size fit all with STCW?

When STCW was revised in 1995 and again in 2010, we all expected that the new standards would harmonize the training requirements and therefore allow mariners to complete their training in various parts of the world based on where they desired to go to school or based on where the vessel is based. Unfortunately, things just haven't worked out that way with many countries. This is especially difficult for mariners with multiple licenses issued by various administrations and for those who are certificated by one country and work on a vessel flagged in another country. The reason for this problem is that in order to be considered a "white list" or fully compliant country, the IMO requires each administration to guarantee that proper oversight has been and is continuously performed on each school issuing training certificates. It is impossible for the USCG to oversee schools in foreign countries and vice versa. That is why MPT and some other schools in this country have applied to many different countries for recognition. This is a very costly process because it requires auditing by each country on a regular basis. In addition, some countries are not interested in approving schools outside their jurisdiction. This is why it is so important to ensure that the school a mariner attends for training is recognized by the country issuing the license and also that the Flag State of the vessel will accept a license/CoC issued by that country.

Why don't all STCW Certificates look the same, isn't this a standard?

Each country (administration) is tasked by the IMO to incorporate a statement of compliance with the STCW Code into their Certificate of Competency (license). Most countries do not have any CoCs that are exempt from STCW and therefore have incorporated their statement of compliance right on the face of the CoC. Because of the US Inland and Great Lakes mariners being exempt from STCW, the USCG has to issue a merchant mariners credential with two separate sections, one for domestic licensure/certification and one section for international/STCW compliance only to those mariners who qualify.

What is the IMO?

The IMO (International Maritime Organization) located in London, is a part of the United Nations and has 133 signatory countries. The IMO is not a British Agency, just as the main United Nations building being located in New York does not make the UN an American Agency.

What are Port and Flag State Control?

Port and Flag State Control are key elements in fulfilling the revisions of the STCW Code. Port State Control is the authority an administration has over vessels operating within their waters (jurisdiction) regardless of Flag. In a nutshell, Port State Control is the oversight and inspections conducted by the administration of the port on a vessel entering their port. Simply stated, in the United States, when the USCG boards a vessel and "checks it out", they are fulfilling part of their port state control authority.

The revised Chapter I of STCW includes enhanced procedures concerning the exercise of port State to allow intervention in the case of deficiencies deemed to pose a danger to persons, property or the environment (regulation I/4). This can take place if certificates are not in order or if the ship is involved in a collision or grounding, if there is an illegal discharge of substances (causing pollution) or if the ship is maneuvered in an erratic or unsafe manner, etc.

Flag State Control is the authority an administration has over vessels with their own registration (flag) regardless of where they are operating. Therefore, when the USCG conducts an inspection on a US flagged vessel, they are acting as Flag State Control.

What is the "White List"?

The White List identifies the countries that have demonstrated a plan of full compliance with the STCW Convention and Code as revised in 2010. The White List was developed by an unbiased panel of "competent persons" at the IMO. The criteria used to develop the list included what system of certification (licensing) each administration would have, the process of revalidation for certificates, training center oversight, port state control, and flag state control.

What happens if a country is not on the "White List"?

Since there is a white list, it would stand to reason that any country not on the white list could be considered "black listed". This is not the case. There is no actual black list although very often that is how non-compliant countries are described.

Port State Control and Flag State Control both play a role in handling a non-white listed country. For instance, if a vessel is flagged by a non-white list country, when it desires to enter a white list port, it can be denied entry, detained or inspected vigorously.

On the other hand, if a mariner has a Certificate of Competency (license) from a non-white list country, they will most likely be denied a Certificate of Equivalency, they will be rejected as a viable manning solution for white list flagged vessels, and their sea time and training may either be highly scrutinized or not accepted at all towards a CoC from a white list country.

What was revised/amended in 2010 & how does it differ from the 1995 or the 1978 convention?

The 2010 amendments were rather short compared to the 1995 amendments. The primary purpose of the 2010 amendments were as follows:

  1. To enhance the requirements for refresher training in safety related certificates every five years
  2. To require additional security training for all levels of seafarers
  3. To require Human Element Leadership and Management Level training for deck and engineering officers
  4. To require additional training in Chapter V for tank vessel personnel
  5. To recommend additional training for those mariners serving in polar regions
  6. To require formal ECDIS training for all deck officers serving on ECDIS Equipped vessels
  7. To consolidate the training in Chapter V for all passenger vessels to include RO-RO vessels
  8. To harmonize the rest periods with the provisions established by the Maritime Labour Convention 2006

These amendments went into force in January 2012 with a five year phase in and implementation plan and a 1 January 2017 deadline for all mariiners. New mariners beginning their sea service after January 2013 must be in compliance with the amendments at the start of their training.

In contrast, the 1995 amendments represented a major revision of the Convention, in response to a recognized need to bring the Convention up to date and to respond to critics who pointed out the many vague phrases, such as "to the satisfaction of the Administration", which resulted in different interpretations being made. Others complained that the Convention was never uniformly applied and did not impose any strict obligations on Parties regarding implementation. 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 have been transferred. Part A of the Code is mandatory while Part B is recommended.

Dividing the regulations up in this way made administration easier and it also made the task of revising and updating them more simple: for procedural and legal reasons there is no need to call a full conference to make changes to Codes.

Some of the most important amendments adopted by the Conference concerned Chapter I - General Provisions.

They include the following:

Ensuring compliance with the Convention

Parties to the Convention were required to provide detailed information to IMO concerning administrative measures taken to ensure compliance with the Convention. This represented the first time that IMO had been called upon to act in relation to compliance and implementation - generally, implementation is down to the flag States, while port State control also acts to ensure compliance. Under Chapter I, regulation I/7 of the revised Convention, Parties were required to provide detailed information to IMO concerning administrative measures taken to ensure compliance with the Convention, education and training courses, certification procedures and other factors relevant to implementation.

The information was reviewed by panels of competent persons, nominated by Parties to the STCW Convention, who report on their findings to the IMO Secretary- General, who, in turn, reports to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) on the Parties which fully comply. The MSC then produces a list of Parties in compliance with the 1995 amendments.