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Stcw Amendments and Critical Analysis Essay

Introduction: The STCW Convention

“The Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention was drafted in 1978 by conference at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London, and was activated in 1984” (wikipedia/stcw). Since its beginning, its scope has been to set qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships. On an international level, “the 1978 STCW Convention was the first to establish basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers” (wikipedia/stcw). It introduced such things as the requirement for at least “4 years of experience for a Master 1600 gt license” (

Previously, it was individual governments that used to establish “the standards of training, certification and watchkeeping of officers and ratings” (wikipedia/stcw), in most cases without reference to practices in other nations. As a consequence, standards and procedures were broadly different, although there is an extreme worldwide character in shipping (wikipedia/stcw) and many countries used to afford very satisfactory training. However, the performance criteria and necessary evidence for appraisal of competence under the STCW Code were open to unlike interpretations and this had provoked an increasing concern (Mi Jimmy NG, 2009)

In the Convention one notably significant trait is that “it applies to ships of non-party States when calling ports of States which are Parties to the Convention” (wikipwdia/stcw). According to Article X, “parties are required to apply the control measures to ships of all flags to the appropriate level to ensure that no further favorable treatment is provided to ships authorised to fly the flag of a State which is not a Party than is provided to ships authorized to fly the flag of a State that is a Party” (wikipwdia/stcw). Actually, the Convention has received such wide acceptance mainly due to the adversities which could arise for vessels of States which are not Parties to the Convention. By 2011, the STCW Convention had 155 Parties, “representing 98.9 percent of world shipping tonnage”.(wikipwdia/stcw)

In its initial format, the STCW code encountered some issues, such as the vague requirements that were based on the caution of parties to the Convention. There were increasing difficulties with an absence of explicit “standards of competence”, lack of IMO oversight of compliance, narrow port state control and deficiencies that did not direct adequately contemporary onboard operations (Revision of ISM Code and STCW 95, cited Mi Jimmy NG, 2009)

Besides, during the first years of implementation, the IMO as an organization had merely a consultative prospect and politically restricted authorisation; it therefore left part of the standards to the jurisdiction of each state. Sometimes after 1984, many sides of the industry “felt that the STCW78 was unsuccessful” (Zecet al., 2000, cited Emad and Roth, 2008 ) because “it included vague requirements that were left to the discretion of each government” (Bobb, 2000, cited Emad and Roth, 2008) and because “there was lack of clear standards of competence” (Fink, 2001, cited Emad and Roth, 2008), which resulted in different interpretations. There was also “a demand to bring the STCW78 up to date” (Moreby, 1999, cited Emad and Roth, 2008). Finally from 1992 on – “after a series of major human-caused shipping accident with disastrous consequences (environmental pollutions and loss of lives) and faced with demands for action from politicians, press and public – the IMO decided to review the Convention” (Emad and Roth, 2008).

The 1995 Revision

Obviously, the time had come for the IMO to emphasize on aspects referring to “people, training and operational practices rather than on issues dealing with improving ship construction and equipment standards” (Sailors Club, 2001). The need for the organization to take immediate action was underlined by “the grounding of the m/v Braer in Shetland Islands on January 5, 1993 (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” (Sailors Club, 2001).

Consequently, the 1996 due date for amendment of the STCW Convention was too fawaway. In 1993, comprehensive revision of STCW was decided in order “to establish the highest practicable standards of competence to address the problem of human error as the major cause of maritime casualties” (Sailors Club, 2001). Special consultants were considered necessary to submit amendments and proposals. In addition, in 1995 the US Coast Guard approached the IMO and required from them to alter the code. (Sailors Club, 2001)

Finally, an inclusive revision of STCW was adopted by the IMO On July 7, 1995. A proposition to deploy a new STCW Code was comprised as well, which would include the technical particulars following the provisions of the Convention. On February 1, 1997, the amendments were implemented. By February 1, 2002, full entering to force was required. Seafarers “already holding licenses had 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”.(wikipedia/stcw) The most considerable modifications concerned:

“a) Enhancement of port state control;

b) Communication of information to IMO to allow for mutual supervision and consistency in implementation of standards, c) Quality standards systems (QSS), oversight of training, assessment and certification procedures, o The Amendments required that mariners would be provided with “familiarization training” and “basic safety training” which includes elementary first aid, basic fire fighting, personal survival techniques and personal safety and social responsibility. This training was intended to ensure that seafarers are cognizant of the dangers of working on a ship and can respond in an emergency. 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”. (wikipedia/stcw) Certainly, a significant improvement has occurred by implementing these extended changes which were made to the convention. Since it was an amendment to an existing convention, the STCW 95 amendments was not mandatory to be validated like the original convention.

Nevertheless, the amendments entirely re-established imposition regarding regulations of the Convention, and more significantly introduced a STCW Code (akin to “the USCG licensing regulations”) that place strict patterns for seafarers to comply with. ( The 1995 Amendments “asked for a separate piece of paper to certify that the mariner met the requirements” (, unlike the original 1978 Convention, resulting to the STCW Certificate. “The STCW 1978 Certificate means that a mariner was working aboard ship before August 1, 1998 and hasn’t completed all of the grandfather requirements yet” ( Therefore, he has to do the “gap closing” training. On the other side, new seafarers “(1st day aboard ship after Aug. 1, 98) can not get a STCW 1978 Certificate, since they have to comply with all of the Convention requirements! STCW 1995 Certificates are issued to grandfathered mariners” ( After January 31, 2003 in the United States of America, “existing mariners would no longer be able to get an STCW 95 Certificate by just completing the “gap closing” training” (

Accordingly , all mariners would have to fully comply with the STCW 95 amendments since starting from February 1, 2003. This date deadline represents an one-year prolongation from the initial due date. Even though “the deadline for completing “gap closing” training has been extended one year for US mariners, they are still required to have the STCW 95 certificate before they can enter the waters of another country” ( One would wonder if there was any further reason for which this amendment was necessary. Obviously, because of the technological evolution of the industry. If we browsed through the pages of any of the primary shipping papers, we would come across with a plenty of technical novelties, projected to make ships both more effective and safer.

All we see, from the hull design, the propulsion systems, to the navigation apartment, is the outcome of systematic efforts on research and development. However, the one key part on which everything else so often depends is -ironically– the only exception to this rule: “the officers and crew” ( It is a common place that almost 80 % of accidents in transports are caused by human error. It is the shipboard personnel’s shortcomings or plain lack of capacity that can provoke one accident or even disaster, yet it is the same human element which can procure those skills that may prevent another one. Hence, we consider that this human element, with all its power and all its frailty, constitutes a fundamental component, albeit the ability, intricacy and pure strength of technology appears to be accelerating at exponential rate.

Subsequently, the logic of the international maritime community has now been forwarded from the traditional pursuit of technical solutions to safety-centred issues and therefore the focus has now been shifted on maritime safety rather than the significance of human factors. (Goulielmos, 2001) In conclusion, “the 1995 STCW Convention was one of several key initiatives that still support this new approach at IMO” (Cox, 2009). By placing an emphasis on competence-based training and quality control, it aims to “establish a baseline standard for the education and training of mariners throughout the world and it establishes a structure that can ensure not only that the required standard is met, but that it is seen to be met”. (Excerpted from the IMO website, cited Cox, 2009)

What led to the Manila Amendments

But why didn’t the first amendment solve all the problems? When STCW was reviewed in 1995, it was anticipated that the new standard would square with the training requirements and therefore would permit seafarers to fulfill their training in different areas of the world, depending on their own preference of faculty or on where the ship is based. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case for many countries. Moreover, it is difficult for seafarers who acquire manifold licenses from several administrations and for those who are certificated by one state and work on a ship flagged in a different state. This problem arises because in order to be fully compliant country, i.e. a “white list” country, the IMO requires a guarantee that there has been adequate supervision and there is consistent performance from each administration’s school which issues training certificates. For instance, it is impossible for the USCG to oversee schools in foreign states and vice versa.

This is the reason that “some schools in one country apply to many different countries for recognition” ( . This process requires “auditing by each country on a regular basis” ( and ends up to be very costly. Furthermore, “some countries are not interested in approving schools outside their jurisdiction. This is why it is so important to ensure that the school a seafarer attends for training is recognized by the country issuing the license and also that the Flag State of the vessel will accept a license/C of C issued by that country”.( In Manila in 2010 the IMO Convention affiliated a new set of amendments on Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping of Seafarers called “The Manila Amendments”.

It is generally regarded that these amendments were critical to maintain training standards in accordance with new technological and operational requirements that need new shipboard capabilities. The Manila Amendments entered into force as of January 1, 2012. However, a transition period until 2017 was introduced when all seafarers must be trained and certified in compliance with the new standards. Every year a modified set of requirements becomes effective, to wit implementation is progressive. The most important amendments are (wikipedia/stcw):

• “New rest hours for seafarers
• New grades of certificates of competence for Able seaman in both deck and engine
• New and updated training, refreshing requirements
• Mandatory security training
• Additional medical standards
• Specific Alcohol limits in blood or breath” (wikipedia/stcw) “Some mariners who only operate in US waters have less requirements. The mariners who have licenses for 200 gross registered tons or less; and/or, Z-card holders working on Offshore Supply Vessels of 500 gross registered tons or less have different requirements”. ( Notably, since 1995, there had been fast changes in the design of vessels and the equipment used in the propulsion and navigation systems and yet no grave endeavour had occurred in order to review the STCW and/or the IMO model courses in this regard. In fact, we consider that the changes which were introduced in 2003 were not extensive. There remains a number of deficiencies in the convention after the changes which took place in 2010, even though some critical changes were implemented and they are anticipated to arrange various significant matters. (Ziarati, et al, 2010)

The principal aim is still to conduct higher-level maritime operations onboard through an ampler coverage of knowledge, skills and competency. These trends, as well as the need for more specialisation, are reflected in several minor changes in 2003, as results of the required changes which we summarised earlier. The development of specialised and professional transportation technologies, advanced navigational technologies as well as technologies and regulations for the pollution prevention, were considered significant for inclusion into the seafarers’ competency standards and were comprised in the review. (Ziarati, et al, 2010) Therefore, we believe that they were absolutely necessary and they are moving to the right direction.

On the other hand, given that new regulations and conventions have arisen after a major disaster at sea, in the majority of cases, we could characterize them as reactive. (Ziarati, et al, 2010) “In the m/v Braer accident, e.g. the Greek Master never replied to the question of the pilot as to “whether the steel pipes were secure on deck”. In the m/v Sea Empress, “the bad communication between again pilot and Captain was fatal. Lack of communication is held responsible, too, for deaths in the case of m/v Scandinavian Star. These perhaps led revised convention STCW/95 to require that crew members should be in a position to efficiently communicate by a common working language (usually English)” (Goulielmos et al, 2009)

The introduction of automation in operating a ship has been one very important development. Contemporary ships, especially fuel carrying vessels and containers are getting progressively automated. The automation has been accompanied by two problems, one relating to “the inadequacy of existing mariners’ education and training, viz that if any aspects of automation fails the crew often are not trained to use alternative systems and hence respond to it effectively” (IMO MSC 82, 2006; Ziarati, 2006, cited Ziarati, et al, 2010). The second problem has arisen “from the review of the arguments from the recent IMO Maritime Safety Committee meeting (reports MSC 82/15/2 and MSC 82/15/3, 2006) namely that the human operators rarely understand all of the characteristics of automatic systems and these systems’ weaknesses and limitations which have now been found to be the main causes of accidents” (Ziarati, et al, 2010).

The main conclusion of these reports was that there is a need to upgrade the substance of all maritime training and that the knowledge, skills and conception of automation should be included in the basic training of all Chapters of the STCW Code of practice and hence address this very serious issue at source. In addition, to address the second problem, “it is considered attainable to collect the knowledge for inclusion in the existing seafarer’s education and training in a short course format that can be easily introduced for existing seafarers and hence enabling the seamen currently working at sea and in ports to develop the competence to handle and respond to automation failures” (Ziarati, et al, 2010). A European Union (EU) Project has been instigated to overcome these problems, along with several partners of the EU, called Surpass. The project commenced on October 2009 and will be completed in September 2011.(Ziarati, et al, 2010)

Inevitably, the workload on-board has augmented considerably due to the establishment of numerous new regulations and codes, including ISM and ISPS, along with commercial demands. Taking into account that specific parts of the industry suffer a very pungent deficit in officers and combined with the continuing increment of the fleet worldwide, some serious issues emerge once again. For instance, one question would be weather STCW and the forthcoming changes resolve the identified setbacks in radio communications or automation problems. Furthermore, it is doubtable whether they will address adversities coming from the vessel’s manpower, since mariners have often manifested themselves “into long working hours and fatigue, which in turn has resulted in several accidents, both at sea and in ports”.( Albayrak, Zyarati, 2009)


By nature shipping is a genuinely international activity, having stringent requirements for homogeneous and equal training, regardless of the place that is conducted. IMO’s model courses intend to give guidance accordingly. Nevertheless, each signatory party to STCW-95 is allowed to define its own standards for the training. This has led to the unfortunate situation around the world where there is not only differentiation in form, but also in content of the actual training that is being accomplished.

Projects such as ‘Securitas Mare’ or ‘Safe Seas’ were promoted through the EU’s ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ program to arrange one aspect of this particular issue and intended to create a common European standard for Crowd and Crisis Management training. “The project had 15 partners, amongst them 10 MET institutions and the course concept thus created has today been accepted as an alternative standard in 6 of the participating countries. A continuation has been started, in October 2006, to continue to spread the projects result through a so called Transfer of innovation-project”.( Bergquist, 2007)

A conclusion can be made that introduced regulations of STCW, as well as of other conventions, such as MARPOL, Oil Pollution Act and International Safety Management Code have had a positive impact on maritime accidents frequency and have reduced damage to environment. But we should keep in mind that besides these regulations, significant contribution to maritime safety was made by modern technical solutions in shipbuilding (i.e. double skin tankers) and navigational aids in the same time frame. (Zvonimir, Tonci, 2008)


1. Albayrak, Zyarati, 2009 New methodologies and technologies in met 2. Bergquist C., 2007 Securitas Mare – Crowd and Crisis Management, TransNav, Volume 1, page 114 date of access 10-19 december, 2012

3. Emad G., Roth W.M. (2009) Contradictions in the practices of training for and assessment of competency: A case study from the maritime domain, Emerald Article,

4. Goulielmos A. et al (2009) “The accident of passenger-car vessel Samina Express (2000), when 80 persons died: An analysis by the principles of nonlinear management” Emerals Artcle: Disaster Prevention and Management Volume: 18 Issue: 3

5. Goulielmos A., 2001, “Disaster Prevention and Management” 6., date of access 10-19 december, 2012, 7., date of access 10-19 december, 2012

8. Mi Jimmy J. NG (2009) An Exploratory Study in Determining Priority Issues in Marine Safety Management in STCW95 and ISM – a Hong Kong Case

9. Quentin N. COX, 2009, “The application of human factors in maritime education and training”, P.13

10. Sailors Club, 2001, STCW 78>>>>95.ppt, available from: 11. Zirati et al, 2010, “Innovation in maritime education and training”, TUDEV (Turkish Maritime Education Foundation) Institute of Maritime Studies 12. Zvonimir, Tonci, 2008, “A Contribution to the Analysis of Maritime Accidents with Catastrophic Consequence”, p.4

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