(File photo)

MANILA – A leader of the House of Representatives on Thursday assured European Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Veron of Congress’ full support for improving the training standards for Filipino seafarers as the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is set to undertake an audit of the country’s compliance with international training standards this month.

House ways and means committee chair Joey Salceda said Congress would provide its support regarding the EMSA audit for compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) in the country, as well as in keeping logistics secure during "this turbulent period" for the global economy.

“As a senior member of the Congressional leadership team, I would like to express my interest in working with the European Union’s delegation to the Philippines to forward the interests of both Filipino seafarers and European shipping and logistics on areas, such as Filipino seafarer training,” Salceda said in a letter to the European ambassador.

He said Europe-hired Filipino seafarers are among the highest earners accounting for about 50,000 jobs, as he warned that they could lose their jobs if the Philippines fails the EMSA audit this November.

“I understand that the findings of the European Maritime Safety Agency over the past years put at risk the eligibility for employment of some 50,000 Filipino seafarers, many of whom are my constituents,” Salceda said.

He also offered to boost the local efforts of the EU delegation to help Philippine maritime schools improve training.

“Over the past few months, European marine industry has relied heavily on Filipino seafarers, who are culturally predisposed towards the West. They have very few problems with us culturally," Salceda said. “But we need to boost our training and take serious heed of the concerns of EMSA. We have been failing their audits for at least 16 years already."

He said keeping the EU-hired seafaring jobs is critical as the country protects its foreign currency reserves and seeks to recover from what he calls “a fluid domestic jobs situation."

Salceda said while the EU is unlikely to ban Filipino seafarers from their flagged ships, some companies are "doubtlessly going to take seriously" the EMSA findings this year.

"And if the findings are too adverse, some of them might hesitate if not avoid hiring Filipinos. That will surely hurt jobs in the sector," he said.

House Deputy Majority Leader and MARINO Party-list Rep. Sandro Gonzalez, meanwhile, commended the directive of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to urge various agencies under the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to create an implementation plan that will address the Philippines' deficiencies as found by the EMSA.

"The Filipino seafaring sector needs the utmost support of our government at this time to ensure their continuous employment with EU-flagged vessels. Our sustained compliance with international maritime standards must be a top priority of the administration," Gonzalez said.

He also said the circulating false news regarding the removal of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) as an implementing agency should serve as a reminder to double-check facts and ensure that they only come from direct and reliable sources, especially with critical issues such as this.

"Our utmost confidence in addressing the issues raised in the EMSA report remains with the Philippine government, under the leadership of President Marcos, and through the Department of Transportation, including MARINA," he added.

During a recent House hearing, Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Assistant Secretary Jerome Pampolina reported that the EMSA found 13 shortcomings and 23 grievances, among which are the lack of training equipment and inconsistencies in teaching and assessment, adding that this is the final year for the Philippines to address deficiencies in the country's seafarers’ education, training, and certification system.

"The country has not been able to pass the EMSA Audit since 2006 or for more than a decade. This is the final year for the Philippines to adopt corrective measures towards full compliance," he said.

Pampolina warned that if the recognition of Philippine-issued STCW certificates is withdrawn, the country would undergo a new round of evaluation and must satisfactorily comply with the findings before the recognition is restored.

This means that Filipino officers and ratings will no longer be qualified to be deployed to European Union-plying vessels that require such certifications, he noted.

"It's possible for the Filipino seafarers to lose their jobs if recognition of Philippine-issued STCW certificates are removed. But this is just the direct effect. It may create a contagion among ship-owning countries worldwide," he said.

He also cited data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showing that overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs) cash remittances from all sea-based OFWs over five years averaged USD6.37 billion.

Pampolina said this amount of remittances is also at risk should the country fail to meet minimum global standards of maritime education, training, and certification.

He also warned of a loss of jobs in the seafaring and manning industries and other related industries.

Earlier this week, the DMW announced that it has been mandated by President Marcos, along with other agencies, to ensure that the country complies with the findings of the EMSA. (PNA)