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SA seafarers given reprieve after ‘white list’ jobs scare – for now

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Thousands of South African
seafarers who faced being axed from the International Maritime Organistion’s “white
list”, can breathe easy again after the organisation agreed to shelve
changes to the list for the next two years.

This means the 5 000 South
African-trained seafarers and South African flagged ships can continue to work
in international shipping.

The IMO’s backtracking occurred
during a recent meeting of the organisation where several of the 80 countries
that stood to be removed from the white list – including major maritime nations
like the Philippines, the Netherlands and the UK – raised serious concerns
about the issue.

Sobantu Tilayi, acting CEO of
the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa), told Fin24 on Monday that the IMO had
conceded that the publishing of the white list had not followed due process.

‘Diplomatic
boo-boo’

“There were 80 countries
that were very upset. They (IMO) made a diplomatic boo-boo; a big one, in fact,”
Tilayi said.

“There were many countries
lamenting the process but at least now after the meeting we have a road map
that is clear on how the process ought to be done.

“The white list is still
there, but this process pushes the delisting two years away, so we will have
time to comply and put something robust in place, as the IMO requires.”

The prospect of being axed from
the white list emerged from amendments to the IMO’s International Convention on
Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STWC) that
sets the minimum qualification standards for masters, officers and watch
personnel on seagoing merchant ships.

This STCW training is mandatory
and no seafarers can work in international shipping unless they are trained in
the convention.

The convention was updated in
2010, and all signatories – in effect, all maritime nations – had to submit a
report to the IMO to show that their training for seafarers met the new
standards.

Samsa, as the body responsible
for South Africa’s compliance with maritime conventions, had submitted reports
to the IMO, but none were accepted.

Some of the problems the IMO
had were with how South African seafarers’ training institutions and courses
were accredited and how competency was measured.

Samsa set about tackling the
matter, roping in experts from maritime bodies, and hoped to have the new
report with the IMO by March next year, well in time for South Africa’s next
audit in March 2022.

Panic

But then, in February, the IMO
had issued a circular expressing its intention to remove from the register, or “white
list”, all those countries that did not comply with the amendments to the
STCW convention. South Africa was one of 80 countries that stood to be axed.

“This caused panic,”
Tilayi said.

However, at the recent IMO
meeting, where nations concerned put their case, it was concluded that the
drawing up of the list of countries for deslisting from the STWC’s white list
had not followed due process.

“The IMO then agreed to
withdraw the list of affected countries and to embark on a process that is fair
and transparent over the next year or two,” Tilayi said.

This meant that the list would
no longer be presented to the IMO Maritime Safety Committee in June.

“So South Africa is no
longer facing a threat of being delisted from the white list.”

Instead the Maritime Safety
Committee would issue “proper terms of reference” for the
sub-committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW) on how updating
the white list should be done, Tilayi said.

“When there is agreement
as to how the updating of the white list should be done, then the process will
start in earnest,” he said.

This would be two years from
now. South Africa – and the other 80 countries that stood to be axed – would
stay on the white list at least until 2021.

Work
to be done

But Tilayi said there was still
work to be done to ensure South Africa complied with the amendments – however,
at least now Samsa had breathing space.

Samsa had enlisted the services
of an international expert, retired from the IMO, to review the work they had
already done and to advise them further.

Tilayi apologised to the
maritime industry for the panic the delisting prospect had caused.

“We came under a lot of
pressure from some quarters of our stakeholders – justifiably so – but the IMO
acknowledged that things might have been managed differently.”

Fin24 asked the IMO to comment,
but had not received a reply at the time of publication.



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