The Marshall Islands flag is on target to issue a record 70,000 seafarer
documents during 2004, or about 27 percent more than the number issued in
2003. By June 30, 2004 some 32,389 documents had been issued by the Maritime Administration, comprising 3,651 officer certificates of competency, 7,157 seafarer identification record books (SIRBs) and 21,581 special qualification certificates (SQCs).
The rise in the volume of crew paperwork highlights not only the current growth of the Marshall Islands flag fleet, which has expanded by 23 percent in tonnage terms, reaching 22 million gross tons in the second quarter of 2004, but also the increased vigilance the Maritime Administration is giving to the issue of seafarer documentation.
³We believe that prevention is better than cure,² states Capt. Robert A.
Fay, Vice President, Seafarers¹ Documentation with International Registries, Inc. (IRI), the Maritime Administrator of the Marshall Islands Registry.
³Ship inspectors have been placing increasing emphasis on seafarer
documentation over the past two years, since compliance with the revised
Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention
became mandatory. This focus will only intensify now that the International
Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code has entered into force.²
"We are seeking to assist ship owners operating Marshall Islands flag ships
in minimizing the risk of port State control detentions
or other commercial
penalties by ensuring that their seafarer training and documentation is in full compliance with all applicable requirements,² continues Capt Fay. ³We
also work to stay one step ahead of anticipated regulatory developments,
again as part of the Quality Management approach we have adopted in our
service to ship owners. A good example of this would be the more than 400
ship security officer (SSO) certificates that we have issued under the ISPS
Code regime. It is expected that the International Maritime Organization
(IMO) will make SSO certification, which is now a voluntary scheme, a
mandatory requirement in due course.²
Stemming from a recommendation made by the Register¹s own Marshall Islands
Quality Council (MIQC), IRI has intensified its program whereby officer
certificates of competence granted by third parties are verified with the
original issuing authorities. This is part of the ongoing efforts to tighten
up and improve upon its seafarer documentation regime.
The Marshall Islands is also increasing the auditing of seafarer
documentation filing agents, as well as crew training programs that have
been selected for seafarer¹s on ships flying the Marshall Islands flag.
Crewing agents are nominated by individual ship owners, so the Marshall
Islands has been working closely with its ship owners to verify the
competency of the chosen crewing agents to be filing agents and the training
establishments they utilize. ³The success of this initiative is evidenced by the extent to which those filing agents with Marshall Islands credentials
are increasingly in demand,² adds Capt. Fay.
A further service to ship owners choosing the Marshall Islands flag is the initial verification of officer certificates that can be carried out by the Administration¹s regional offices as part of the system in place to provide an expedited ship registration process
. Such pre-authorizations enable the issuance of temporary Certificates of Receipt of Application (CRAs) while a
more extensive verification of the relevant documents is being carried out
by the Administration over a period of up to 30 days.
The Marshall Islands continues
to monitor progress with the current global
efforts to tighten up seafarer
identification systems, including the latest developments with biometric ID technology. "We support efforts to develop and implement such systems," points out Capt. Fay, ³but it is important that the technologies and systems chosen provide a cost-effective, efficient and
practicable solution that can be uniformly utilized in all maritime nations worldwide."