July 13, 2004

Marshall Island issuing record number of seafare documents

The Marshall Islands 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 numbeds reflects both growth in 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--and the increased vigilance the Maritime Administration is giving to the issue of seafarer documentation.

"We believe that prevention is better than cure," says Capt. Robert A. Fay, Vice President, Seafarers' Documentation with International Registries, Inc. (IRI), the Maritime Administrator of the Marshall Islands Registry.

"Ship 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," says Fay. "This focus will only intensify now that the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code has entered into force."

Fay says the Marshall Islands is seeking to assist shipowners minimize the risk of port state control detentions .

"We also work to stay one step ahead of anticipated regulatory developments," he says. " 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."

Stemming from a recommendation made by the Register's 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 seafarer's 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.

"The success of this initiative is evidenced by the extent to which those filing agents with Marshall Islands credentials are increasingly in demand," adds Capt. Fay.

A further service to ship wners choosing the Marshall Islands flag is the initial verification of officer certificates that can be carried out by the Administration's 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, "but 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 worldwid

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