Getting our seafarers ready for high seas duties

Tuvalu a trailblazer

In April 2009, 24 crew members of MV Hansa Stavanger, a German container ship, were captured by heavily armed Somali pirates. Unarmed and no match for the pirates the sailors were held in captivity for four months with a ransom of US$15 million demanded for their release.

However, four months later, they were released after the ship’s owners agreed to pay US$2.75 million. Amongst the crew traumatised by the experience were 12 Tuvaluan sailors and a Fijian. ISLANDS BUSINESS managed to interview them in 2009 upon their release and arrival in Fiji before heading to Tuvalu. Most of the sailors interviewed relived how swift the pirates carried out the attack and subdued any efforts of retaliation within a short period of time. A year later, the Convention on Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCWS) undergoes an amendment relooking at security standards. The convention was the first to establish basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers on an international level. Fast forward to July this year, the Tuvalu Government, assisted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, became the first Pacific Islands nation to pass the amended legislation addressing the 2010 amendments to STCWS Convention which was first enacted in 1978. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), with funding assistance from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), assisted the Tuvalu Government in updating this legislation. Tuvalu is the only country in the Pacific region that has legislation reflective of the 2010 STCWS amendments.

Tuvalu benefits Tuvalu Maritime Training Institute (TMTI), Chief Executive Officer, Iefata Paeniu, who was instrumental in amending the Tuvalu legislation, said this development would have a positive impact on the Tuvalu economy. “We have seafarers working on overseas ships and if we do not make the changes, it will jeopardise our opportunities on overseas ships,” Paeniu said. “Legislating STCWS 2010 is important for our seafarers as well as for those other foreign seafarers serving on Tuvalu flagged ships.” He added that a lot of families in Tuvalu rely on remittance from their seafarer relatives to meet essential expenses such as school fees. Remittances from seafarers form approximately 30 percent of the gross national product of Tuvalu and in some families a single sailor’s wage can support 25 family members. It is estimated that A$4 million in remittances are sent back each year to Tuvalu by sailors and Tuvaluans employed overseas.

SPC for safety SPC’s Deputy Director of Transport Brian Riches said the development is in line with SPC’s endeavour to ensure safe, efficient and affordable regional maritime service. “It is part of SPC’s mandate to provide technical assistance to countries in maritime transport, and it will certainly help countries in becoming compliant with international laws and, of course, to ensure that countries remain on the IMO White List,” he said. Riches said the aim of this convention is to give seafarers from all nations working on board seagoing ships, an internationally harmonised set of skills needed to observe high standards of competence and duties. And although the 2009 case of the Tuvalu sailors did highlight the concerns and vulnerability to such security risks, the legislation was in line with international development of laws and standards. “Because piracy is considered a plague by the international community, states involved in the regulatory process handled by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) like Tuvalu, which is a member of this organisation since May 2004, agreed on the necessity of giving seafarers the appropriate skills to face such violence,” Riches said. “Data from naval forces operating in high-risk pirate zones indicate that if crews of vessels transiting in such zones provide effective counter measures, there is significantly less chance that ships and their crews will become victims of pirates. “But it should be noted that even if seafarers are well trained, the role of the shipping companies which hire them is also crucial,” he said.

Powers on boats Riches said seafarers were still prohibited from handling weapons on board. They are instead trained to contribute to the enhancement of maritime security (watchkeeping and enhanced vigilance), recognise security threats, undertake regular security inspections and properly use security equipment and systems. “However, such equipment and systems are non-lethal such as distinctive alarms, weather deck lighting, rear facing lighting, search lights, kevlar jackets and helmets available for the bridge team, security glass film, coating gunwales, razor wire barrier, water spray and or foam monitors, citadel, etc,” Riches said. Riches said under the amendment, new requirements for security training as well as provisions to ensure that seafarers are trained to cope if their ship comes under attack by pirates have been adopted and entered into effect in January 2012. He said the amended legislation passed by the Tuvalu government last month allows the state to keep domestic legislation updated and therefore, comply with international laws and standards governing the award of certificates required for seafarers who wish to take up work on merchant carriers internationally. “Under this new set of standards, security awareness training is required for all seafarers even without any designated security duties on board,” he said. Earlier this year, SPC also updated the Pacific Islands Maritime Laws (PIMLaws)—a collection of model legislation and regulations that countries can use to enact their national maritime laws. “SPC recognises that translating international instruments into law is challenging, especially for small islands states. “So we sought funding assistance from IMO to engage a consultant to update PIMLaws and help countries in adopting the updated model regulations,” Riches said. SPC will now move on to assist Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia in updating their STCW legislation.


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