The new STCW convention: its effect to ship-owners

By Mikkel Brønnum Hansen, Business Consultant, Master Mariner MBA, Green-Jakobsen A/S, (a Copenhagen Based consultancy company dedicated HR and Safety within the shipping business).

By Mikkel Brønnum Hansen, Business Consultant, Master Mariner MBA, Green-Jakobsen A/S, (a Copenhagen Based consultancy company dedicated HR and Safety within the shipping business).

The STCW convention, mainly addressing the competency and training standards for crew on board mer­chant ships, was amended in Manila, June of 2010 where it received a thorough overhaul. The convention first saw daylight in 1978, and then again in 1995 with the current convention which has been serving its purpose well by aligning training and certification standards across the world. But how about the new amend­ments which enters into force by January 2012 and are supposed to be fully implemented by 2017? Is this revision just as forward looking as the previous ones – or is it just a mediocre pile of paper that has been created in the name of consensus?

Looking at the topic from the view of the ship-owner, I will try to an­swer these questions. These topics have been discussed with a number of major ship-owners and it has revealed some interesting viewpoints, which will hopefully give the maritime administrations responsible for the implementation of the revised convention some food for thought. This article will discuss a number of selected topics that address some key areas of the convention – some of those which raise concerns from the owners.

New requirements

There are still some black holes which need to be clarified.

The eye-catching change is the inclusion of the ratings into the STCW convention – previously they were found only in the ILO conven­tions. Moving towards global standards for ratings as governed by the STCW convention in this respect – will increase the operational flex­ibility for owners with fleets spread over several flags.

Another area is the Electrical Engineers and ratings that have now been integrated in the convention. Here owners will start to see crew meeting standardized requirements – instead of getting lost in the cer­tification and diploma jungle.

Looking through the praise

There are, however, also some issues that raise some people’s eye­brows – tighter regulation and certification lead to decrease in seafarer supply, thus owners should expect an upward pressure on wages. This is expected for ratings – and definitely also for electricians.

Some owners cross their fingers that electricians will not be part of the safe manning – as for example reefer electricians – are they expected to live up to the new certification requirements as well? If they are – this means an immediate hike in wages expenses – and sleepless nights for crew managers!

Administrations must address these issues quickly and owners need a coordinated response, in order not to create loop-holes or unfair com­petition between flags.

The Cook

Who forgot the most important person onboard?

MLC: “3. Seafarers employed as ships’ cooks with responsibility for food preparation must be trained and qualified for their position on board ship.”

Unfortunately the amended STCW convention is not complete: The cook is missing. – Striking, since all other ratings are now included – but the cook. Any seafarer would argue that the cook is the most important person on board – and now they would have to live with the MLC’s rather vague statements that the cook must be trained and qualified. It could have been a home-run if the STCW had included a cook COP requirement specifying training and competency require­ments within hygiene, healthy food, budgeting and stocktaking, as well as cooking, baking etc.

Moving forward

It can only be recommended that administrations try to align cook certification and requirements as required through the MLC. Another recommendation is that IMO will settle this in the next revision, as it creates barriers for cooks to seek employment – and it decreases flex­ibility for the owners.

Refresher training – Requires planning – and a grab in the pocket. Fol­lowing the new requirements including the increased requirements for refresher courses – the training industry has sensed a new awakening.

A few points to set this into perspective:

Refresher courses cost money. Some owners estimate the increased cost to amount to 500 – 1.500 USD per seafarer per 5-year refresher cycle. In the end these extra costs will have to be borne by ship-owners, one way or the other.

At the other side of the table – some Filipino training centers have identified 14 – 20 new courses, which they are now preparing in the wake of the 2010 amendments. Interestingly enough – the Department of Labor and Employment in Manila has stated that they opt for early implementation of the Manila amendments as one of the only admin­istrations so far. Training is big business in the Philippines.

Owners appreciate training

But owners also appreciate that they get a return of their investment. Pouring money out on doubtful new training regimes with limited control is not where owners wish to put their money. Administrations and training centers must ensure the quality of courses – and align­ment with requirements in the convention – as well as alignment with other administrations.


Will we follow the original implementation schedule? Generally, quite a few owners actually do not know the implications of the revised con­vention – they might state that they have heard about STCW 2010, but haven’t had the time to look into what it means to them. Other owners are merely scared; they have seen the requirements but are waiting for clarification by administrations. The necessary courses cannot be planned and booked until there is clarity about how administrations will implement the new requirements.

Some areas are still unclear – it is stated that until 1/1 2017 certifi­cates can still be approved/renewed and issued according to STCW 95. However, what will the requirements towards the crew who were not even covered by STCW 95 be? Will we suddenly see a rush for rating re-certification during the last months of 2011 – and will that also be the case with Electrical engineers and ratings? It is evident that for planning purposes the owners need some clear guidance.


Owners want less and more smooth administration processes – what do they get? More certificates lead to more administration. The aver­age Filipino seafarer holds about 4 times as many certificates as his Scandinavian counterpart. Will the 2010 amendments once and for all eliminate the certificate jungle?

On the contrary – we will see the new the requirements leading to ad­ditional certification, and it could be envisaged that the new refresher courses will require issuing of separate certificates, which will all have to be re-issued every 5 years.

Furthermore, owners and crew managers spend many hours on certifi­cate endorsements. This is basically a paper exercise which is just keep­ing people busy. It would have been appreciated if the parties had had the courage once and for all to combat administration and bureaucracy, which could end up drowning the shipping industry in paperwork.

eLearning and simulator training

The revised convention recommends extended use of simulator and eLearning tools for training purposes. If administrations come the conclusion that eLearning and simulator training can cover the train­ing requirements – the convention opens to the acceptance of almost everything. This is great news for both the seafarer – and the owners. Imagine that most refresher courses can be taken on board using eL­earning tools in a controlled environment and with the assessment by the master? This will save shipping companies for extensive training expenses and the seafarer will be spared spending several days away from their families during their well-deserved vacations.

Experience shows that eLearning

If applied correctly – can be extremely beneficial, and cost-effective. It can be applied either as professional, inspiring, pure eLearning tools, or as a part of blended learning, where the eLearning goes hand in hand with classroom teaching, practical exercises or on board assignments.


An opportunity to get leadership on the chart to drive performance

In the revised convention leadership has been included for the first time under these headlines:

  • Task and workload management
  • Effective resource management
  • Decision-making techniques

Many quality ship-owners already invest in leadership training – al­though non-compliance courses, especially with soft-skills focus, have been first choice when cutting in training budgets have been imposed over the past 2-3 years. So owners should welcome the opportunity to have leadership as part of their compliance focus.


People don’t leave jobs – they leave bosses – or senior officers. Reten­tion is a key word for many shipping companies today. And the focus on the issue as set forward by the STCW revision is an eye-opener to many shipping companies to the fact that leadership on board means a great deal towards their performance: safety performance, business performance, retention performance etc. Calculations show that the direct replacement costs for a shipping company for losing 1 officer is more than 14.000 USD! So investment in leadership training ad­ditional to the fact that it will now be part of the training for all new officer graduates certainly makes sense seen from a cost perspective. In addition, we find that 43% of an employee’s performance comes through the indirect performance enablers, which are closely linked to leadership competencies – like giving fair and informal feedback, clarifying expectations etc. This can be drastically improved through the right leadership development. The open question is then – how ambitious will administrations are with regard to the visions for their leadership training? Time will show – but we now have leadership of­ficially charted on the STCW map.