An EU-sponsored pilot project to combat seafarer certificate forgery has highlighted shocking worldwide concern over the degree of fraudulence permeating the marine industry.
The project, branded ‘Get Quality’, revealed that “nearly every tenth seaman worldwide has had direct or indirect experience of fraudulent certificates,” and this pressing issue takes on a distinctly international dimension given that the majority of seafarers serve on board vessels under foreign flag.
Captain Jazeps Spridzans, project partner, underlined how “a considerable volume of such fraud undermines the training and certification system, evokes suspicion and distrust between partners and countries in recognition of certificates, and causes danger to human safety at sea.”
The project, which involves Germany, the UK, Lithuania and Latvia, started in October 2006, with the aim of confronting concerns surrounding seafarer competency. It has designed an anti-fraud tool system to help tackle the problem head on.
However, despite an IMO involved study in 2001 which released the deplorable statistic of 12,635 detected cases of certification forgery in that year alone, no follow up effort has been made since to combat the issue.
One of the largest concerns is the lack of verification process following proof of certification, and the study revealed that 29% of port employers do not even see original certificate documentation, relying only on verbal assurances or claims, and 55% of German shipping companies never verify a certificate’s authenticity.
Captain Spridzans said: “The existing version of STCW Convention does not request administration to verify all ancillary certificates and educational diplomas of the candidate for certification.
“For combating forgery in the maritime sector, concentrated countermeasures of all countries are necessary, including the obligation for certificate issuing administrations to verify all background documents for certification such as educational diplomas, sea-service periods, medical certificates, and training certificates,” he added.
The pilot project conducted in Latvia proposed that in addition to certificate verification processes to be imposed, industry authorities should also introduce a digital image database on which all official seafarer documentation is stored via a secure and confidential internet website.
While such proposals for official and thorough inspection systems to be introduced and enforced worldwide have been suggested, the marine industry now awaits further development via official bodies such as the IMO in the imperative protection against illegal and fraudulent seafarer certification.