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About STCW – History of STCW Implementation.

Background :
The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, as amended, sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships. STCW was adopted in 1978 by conference at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London, and entered into force in 1984. The Convention was significantly amended in 1995. The 133 current state-parties to the Convention represent approximately 98 percent of the world’s merchant vessel tonnage. The United States became a party in 1991. Over 90 percent of ships visiting U.S. waters are foreign-flag. Approximately 350 large U.S. merchant ships that routinely visit foreign ports, as well as thousands of smaller U.S. documented commercial vessels that operate on ocean or near-coastal voyages, are subject to STCW.

Limitations Discovered :
Between 1984 and 1992, significant limitations to the 1978 Convention became apparent. Many people felt that the Convention included vague requirements that were left to the discretion of parties to the Convention. Others felt that there were growing problems with: (a) a lack of clear standards of competence, (b) no IMO oversight of compliance, (c) limited port state control, and (d) inadequacies that did not address modern shipboard functions. Meanwhile, the U.S. deferred ratification efforts and worked for almost a decade to effect necessary changes to our licensing regulations.

U.S. Proposal for Revision Accepted :
In December 1992, as details of the grounding of the M/V AEGEAN SEA on rocks outside the Spanish port of La Corunna were being reported, the IMO’S Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) agreed to a U.S. proposal to conduct a comprehensive review of the 1978 Convention. In making the proposal, the U. S. suggested that the review should specifically consider criteria used for insuring fitness of watchstanders and the role of the human element in maritime casualties. During the ensuing discussions, some delegations expressed agreement that the time had come for the organization to concentrate on areas relating to people, training and operational practices rather than on issues dealing with improving ship construction and equipment standards. Consequently, the MSC directed one of it’s subordinate committees, the Standards of Training and Watchkeeping (STW) Sub-Committee, to take the human element into account, and further that the Sub-Committee should complete the revision by 1996.

Secretary-General Determines urgent action required :
During the month immediately following this meeting, the need for IMO to take urgent action was highlighted by the grounding of the M/V BRAER in the Shetland Islands on January 5, 1993. Significantly, this was only a month after the December 3, 1992 M/V AEGEAN SEA incident. Two years earlier, in 1990, 158 people had died as a result of a fire on board the S/S SCANDINAVIAN STAR. The Secretary General of the IMO considered these incidents, among others, to be indicative of the serious nature of the problem and asked the MSC to consider revising the STCW Convention as a matter of urgency. In his statement to the committee’s 63rd session in May 1993, the Secretary General stated that he believed the 1996 deadline for revision of the STCW Convention was too distant. He instead proposed that the work be completed in time for a diplomatic conference to adopt the revisions in July 1995.

Revisions started in 1993 :
In 1993, the IMO embarked on this comprehensive revision of STCW to establish the highest practicable standards of competence to address the problem of human error as the major cause of maritime casualties. A small number of special consultants developed a document identifying categories of behavioral conditions which, in their view, could be improved to some degree with proper training and enhanced shipboard practices and arrangements. After considering these conditions in terms of the effects of the human element in marine casualties, the consultants prepared a preliminary draft of suggested amendments to the STCW Convention, including a number of proposals directly addressing the human element. They also included a proposal to develop a new STCW Code, which would contain the technical details associated with provisions of the Convention. The amendments were discussed and modified by the STW Subcommittee over the following two years.


The most significant amendments concerned :

a) enhancement of port state control;

b) communication of information to IMO to allow for mutual oversight and consistency in application of standards,

c) quality standards systems (QSS), oversight of training, assessment, and certification procedures,

d) placement of responsibility on parties, including those issuing licenses, and flag states employing foreign nationals, to ensure seafarers meet objective standards of competence, and

e) rest period requirements for watchkeeping personnel.

Amendments adopted in 1995:
On July 7, 1995, a conference of parties to the Convention, meeting at IMO headquarters in London, adopted the package of amendments to STCW. The amendments entered force on February 1, 1997. The Coast Guard subsequently took steps necessary to implement the revised requirements, ensuring that U.S. licenses and documents would be issued in compliance with the 1995 Amendments.

Implementing Regulations:
On March 26, 1996, the Coast Guard published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in which it proposed a number of changes it considered necessary to implement the revised requirements to ensure that U.S. documents and licenses would be issued in compliance with the 1995 Amendments. The comment period for this NPRM closed on July 24, 1996 and Coast Guard officials evaluated over 550 comments. In addition four public meetings were held to obtain comments from the public. An Interim Final Rule (IFR), incorporating the input received from the NPRM and the public meetings, was published on June 26, 1997.

Effective Dates:
The provisions of the Convention not tied to individual mariner certification became effective when the IFR was published. However, provision was made for certain new requirements to be introduced over a longer period of time. Full implementation is required by February 1, 2002. For issuance of licenses and documents, the effective dates of the new requirements will be according to transitional guidance published by the STW Subcommittee. Mariners already holding licenses have the option to renew those licenses in accordance with the old rules of the 1978 Convention during the period ending on February 1, 2002. Mariners entering training programs after August 1, 1998 are required to meet the competency standards of the new 1995 Amendments. For persons seeking original licenses, the Coast Guard anticipates that most new training requirements will be incorporated into courses approved by the Coast Guard, or by equivalent courses. To ensure that the competency objectives of the 1995 amendments are met, parties must implement quality assurance programs, with IMO reviewing each parties’ national program. Again, this represents a fundamental change in thinking for the international community. It will be mandatory that the "pulse" of the new system be checked on a recurring basis to ensure its "good health."

Fundamental Objectives, PTP:
One of the fundamental objectives of the Convention is to establish standards of competence for the performance of tasks and to have assessments as to whether an individual meets each competence level. In addition, the 1995 Amendments establish minimum rest periods for watchkeeping personnel, and require that all mariners receive vessel familiarity and basic safety training. This renewed focus on the human element should reduce the instances in which human error leads to a maritime casualty or a pollution incident. To this end, the Convention is based in part on the principle that proper training, coupled with effective application of quality management principles and use of proper procedures, will promote shipboard practices which prevent human error or detect errors at a point when adverse consequences can be averted. This approach is consistent with the Coast Guard’s Prevention Through People initiative.

Human Element issues addressed by the 1995 amendments to STCW

Multinational Crews:
The 1995 Amendments take into account the increasing use of multinational crews. Therefore, the responsibility for competency of crews, which once fell only on flag state administrations, is now spread over all parties that issue certificates. Under the new rules, the party issuing the original certificate must comply with the requirements of the Convention, and the flag state may issue a separate "recognition" certificate only after confirming that the original certificate was issued in accordance with the Convention. Rules currently in effect for U.S. citizens serving on U.S. vessels are not affected by this recognition process. U.S. mariners serving on foreign flag vessels, however, would be affected.

Port State Control:
The 1995 Amendments strengthen the port state control provisions of the STCW Convention by expanding the grounds on which a foreign ship may be detained, and allowing port state control officers to look beyond merchant mariner’s certificates and conduct direct assessments of the competence of merchant mariners.

Rest Periods:
To address the problem of crew fatigue, the STCW Amendments will require that every person assigned duty as an officer in charge of a watch or as a rating forming part of a watch shall receive a minimum of 10 hours of rest in any 24 hour period. These 10 hours of rest may be divided into two parts as long as one segment is at least 6 hours long, with strictly limited exceptions.

Training Requirements:
The Amendments require that seafarers be provided with "familiarization training" and "basic safety training" which includes basic fire fighting, elementary first aid, personal survival techniques, and personal safety and social responsibility. This training is intended to ensure that seafarers are aware of the hazards of working on a vessel and can respond appropriately in an emergency.

The Amendments require training on use of Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA) and Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) for deck officers serving on vessels equipped with those systems. In cases where a vessel is not fitted with those systems, the license and STCW endorsement would state that limitation.

Bridge Teamwork Procedures :
The Amendments require that the master and deck officers have a thorough understanding of bridge teamwork procedures. In the U.S., this is understood to be an ability to apply principles of bridge resource management.

Examinations and Demonstrations of Skills:
The revised technical regulations specify minimum standards of competence for the range of certificates to be issued under STCW. The standards are presented in tables with four columns: a) ‘competence’ or ability to be established; b) area of ‘knowledge, understanding and proficiency’ within each competence; c) ‘methods of demonstrating competence’, and d) ‘criteria for evaluating competence.’ The Amendments also promote the use of simulators as one of the recognized means for demonstrating competence. The Coast Guard is developing standards and procedures and performance measures for use by designated examiners to evaluate competence in various areas.

Quality Standards System:
STCW, as amended, will require all training and assessment activities to be "continuously monitored through a quality standards system to ensure achievement of defined objectives, including those concerning the qualifications and experience of instructors and assessors." The 1995 amendments require those responsible for instruction and assessment of the competence of seafarers to be qualified for the type and level of training or assessment involved. Persons performing these roles are expected to have received guidance in instructional techniques and assessment methods. The Coast Guard has drafted policy guidance for use in qualifying and managing training and assessment personnel.

RO-RO Passenger Ships:
The 1995 Amendments included new regulations (V/2) on training and qualification for masters, officers, ratings and other personnel on RO-RO passenger vessels. These regulations were developed by the IMO as a matter of urgency following the sinking of the ferry ESTONIA. A subsequent set of amendments in 1997 adds similar regulations (V/3) on personnel serving on passenger ships other than RO-RO passenger ships. Regulations currently being developed would incorporate STCW Regulation V/3 into the U.S. licensing system to meet the requirements of the 1997 Amendments. This proposed rule would only apply to U.S. passenger ships to which SOLAS certificates are issued, that is, those on international voyages.

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