STCW final rule has immediate impact on tankermen, training, medical

The U.S. Coast Guard has published its final rule on the 2010 Manila amendments to the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW). The most immediate impact will be felt in tankerman endorsements, medical examinations and basic training refreshers.

The new rule, published Dec. 24, 2013, covers approximately 1,044 U.S. commercial vessels operating on ocean or near-coastal voyages.

The mariners who need to pay the most urgent attention are those who intend to hold a Tankerman Person in Charge endorsement, said Capt. Ernest Fink, chairman of the Department of Professional Education at SUNY Maritime College. The tankerman endorsement is split into three categories: oil, chemicals and liquid gas. A grandfathering clause for mariners to apply based on existing qualifications will last only until the new rule’s March 24 effective date.

“I bet a lot of people are going to miss that. After March, anybody who wants to apply is going to have to meet all the new requirements,” said Fink, who was a delegate to the STCW Convention. “That’s something that all the tankermen had better jump on quickly.”

The broader licensed community will be impacted most by the new “Medical Certificate,” which requires a physical exam every two years. Existing U.S. rules requires medical exams every five years for most mariners. The Coast Guard will begin issuing two-year certificates in April.

An additional new wide-ranging qualification is the need for seafarers to renew several fundamental training activities, some of which cannot be done aboard vessels. Finding time and resources for the shore-side training will pose a challenge to mariners and schools alike, said Barry Van Vechten, assistant director for academics at Calhoon MEBA Engineering School in Easton, Md.

“The requirement for ‘demonstrating continued professional competence’ in basic safety training, advanced firefighting and proficiency in survival craft (lifeboatman) every five years is going to cause extreme difficulties,” said Van Vechten, also a delegate to the STCW Convention.

 “While the Coast Guard will allow you to demonstrate parts of the competencies by having one year of seagoing service in the last five years, the remaining parts must be done ashore,” he said. “While we already have courses approved to meet these requirements, this is going to be a significant burden on our school.”

Approved maritime training programs will be placed under more scrutiny. Each must participate in a quality standards system (QSS). “For all the training providers, this is a big change. By 2017, they have to have a quality standards system like ISO9000 in place for all of the courses they offer,” Fink said. “A lot of the smaller providers, to do this in-house or to pay somebody to come in and do that, it’s a lot of money.”

That provision already is having a deep impact on the industry — even grabbing the attention of training schools that don’t offer a lot of STCW-oriented curriculum. Capt. Skip Anderson, who as director of Flagship Maritime Training serves mainly entry-level mariners, said he will keenly monitor the National Maritime Center’s website when referring students to more advanced programs at other training schools near his Tacoma, Wash., center.

“I need to make sure that the facilities to whom I direct these students is complying with the requirements,” said Anderson. “They have to stay current.”

Fink said the Coast Guard probably underestimated the economic cost of the QSS requirement on the industry. He said academies and operators should be on the lookout for Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circulars (NVICs) in which the Coast Guard will provide more guidance on what will be expected.

Other provisions of the final STCW rule:

– Remove chief engineer (limited-near-coastal) endorsement.

– Add an endorsement for mate of ocean vessels of less than 200 gross tons.

– Exempt pilot vessels from STCW requirements.

– Amend rules on sea-service credit for cadets on academy training ships.

– Provide for an option to complete an approved course, with career progression path, to meet sea-service requirements for offshore supply vessel endorsements.

– Add training requirements for endorsement for electro-technical officer and electro-technical rating.

By Professional Mariner Staff