Shipping is one of the safest means of transport, yet thousands of accidents still occur each year and the great majority of these involve human error. The main issues which can have an effect on the potential for human error are education and training and working conditions. Therefore, the better the education that seafarers receive, the safer shipping will become.
Although many seafarers operating in EU waters were educated, trained and certified in Europe, it is important to note that EU registered ships are often manned by seafarers who are not nationals of EU Member States. This fact needs to be taken into account when determining the best ways of ensuring that crew members on board EU registered ships are appropriately educated and trained. The EU legislation introduced a specific procedure based on which the assessment of compliance with the requirements of the International Maritime Organization's STCW Convention (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) by non-EU countries is conducted by the European Commission for a wider recognition of their certificates of competency by EU Member States. With the support of EMSA, the European Commission assesses seafarer certification procedures and maritime education and training (MET) establishments in non-EU countries on behalf of EU Member States and in line with the STCW Convention. All assessments take place based on a five year cycle so that, in addition to the occasional evaluation of proposed new countries, each country that has already been recognised at EU level will be inspected on a regular basis.
EMSA has also been given the task of verifying the levels of implementation of EU legislation relating to the education, training and certification of seafarers in EU Member States.
Before travelling to a selected country, EMSA inspectors conduct a detailed analysis of the relevant national provisions adopted to implement the STCW Convention. After arriving in the country, the inspection plan involves visits to different parts of the national administrations responsible for setting-up and maintaining the maritime education, training and certification system of seafarers. Coupled with the visits to administrations are visits to the individual MET establishments. These allow EMSA inspectors to verify the system in place, including: the quality of the systems and procedures they have set in place; their operating methods and; the human resources and equipment they have assigned to the different activities. In practice, the inspections not only ensure that the STCW standards are properly implemented and applied, but also enable the inspected entities to identify areas which may need improvement. Both tasks together require 10 to 12 inspections per year to be carried out by the EMSA team.
Maritime administrations and MET establishments in more than 80 countries are currently inspected, thus covering more than 90% of seafarers operating in EU waters, as well as all others operating on EU registered ships around the world.
In support of this work programme, an STCW Information System has been developed. This system already provides information on maritime administrations and MET establishments in the EU, including maritime programmes, number of students and graduates. When fully operational it will provide numerical information on certificates of competency and endorsements issued by the EU Member States. The target is to have accurate information on the number of seafarers available to be employed on EU registered vessels and information on the countries where they were educated, trained and certified.