MNZ Review, STCW and Pirates

Tony Legge presented this talk to the Wellington members at their monthly meeting. He covered three subjects – MNZ’s Qualifications and Operational Limits Review; the amendments to the STCW Convention and Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. 

MNZ Review

The qualifications review was undertaken because MNZ have been told by the inshore and coastal industry representatives or have realized themselves that:

  • Entry to the commercial sector is constrained by lack of MNZ recognition given to recreational boating experience.
  • QOLs depend on sea time rather than experience and competence.
  • Qualifications and syllabuses have not kept up to date with technological advances in navigation, communications and engineering.
  • Domestic and super yacht qualifications are not recognized overseas.
  • Coastal sea time is hard to get and is a barrier to obtaining the NZ Offshore Master qualification.
  • There is no flexibility to allow seafarers and their craft to operate beyond the limits for which they have been certificated for short periods or to suit certain fisheries and other activities.
  • Training courses are unnecessarily long and difficult to access.
  • No regular audits have been conducted of training courses to ensure compliance with regulations and to ensure the competence of exam candidates.
  • Shore based personnel such as teachers, surveyors and technical staff in maritime agencies and shipping companies cannot gain enough seatime to keep their certificates of competency valid.



If there is a common thread that has given rise to these 9 issues it is that MNZ has been too conservative in its approach to tackling maritime safety. That is also true of IMO itself of course. However, it is easy to criticize and not so easy to implement reforms to satisfy so many conflicting interests.


For example the fishing industry wants regulatory standardisation so that navigational operational limits coincide with the limits imposed for sustainable catches when the two have actually nothing in c

ommon and are administered by 2 different government ministries.


Every certificate holder wants his qualification to be easy to obtain but conversely he wants it acceptable worldwide.


Training organizations want their courses to be scheduled well ahead of time, on a regular basis and fully subscribed whereas the participants want them to be under subscribed, short, cheap, and available when it suits them. Ship managers want their ships manned by competent seafarers who are readily available and, ideally, trained by someone else.


Those seafarers who are constrained by operational limits that have been set because of weather or navigational concerns want to be able to stray outside those limits whereas SAR and MNZ believe the limits are there for valid safety reasons and should be respected. Technocrats believe the world revolves around electronic aids and retired master mariners believe that there are merits in position fixing and watchkeeping practices that have proved their worth for many years.


So my point is that it is very easy to criticize MNZ for apparently neglecting regulatory reforms and for not listening to their clients but they are pulled in so many directions by so many pressure groups with different agendas that such criticism is inevitable. It is worth remembering, too, that Katherine Taylor has to satisfy the Minister, the Board, the Public Service Commission, Treasury, the shipping companies, the fishing industry, the passenger boat tourist industry, the public, the press and her own staff. Furthermore none of those organizations probably has a cohesive set of agreed policies even within its own group. Those that prevail just happen to have squealed the loudest.


I am indebted to Tim Nicol, Rod Short and Google for their help in providing information relating to STCW. The revised Convention is stunningly boring so I won’t go into it in detail here. Suffice it to say that the key areas are:


  • improved measures to prevent fraudulent practices associated with certificates of competency;
  • strengthened evaluation processes (monitoring of parties’ compliance with the Convention);
  • revised requirements on hours of work and rest and new requirements for the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as updated standards relating to medical fitness standards for seafarers;
  • new certification requirements for able seafarers;
  • new requirements relating to training in modern technology such as ECDIS;
  • new requirements for marine environment awareness training and training in leadership and teamwork;
  • new training and certification requirements for electro-technical officers;
  • updating of competence requirements for personnel serving on board all types of tankers, including new requirements for personnel serving on liquefied gas tankers;
  • new requirements for security training, as well as provisions to ensure that seafarers are properly trained to cope if their ship comes under attack by pirates;
  • introduction of modern training methodology including distance learning and web-based learning;
  • new training guidance for personnel serving on board ships operating in polar waters; and
  • new training guidance for personnel operating Dynamic Positioning Systems.




This year there have been 80 ships attacked, 19 successful to the end of July. Pirates released UK-flagged chemical tanker St James Park on 14 May 2010 off Somalia after a ransom was paid. All crew members are believed to be “safe and sound”.

The 13,294dwt vessel had been hijacked on 28 December in the Gulf of Aden’s International Recognized Transit Corridor while en route to Thailand. The ransom was dropped to the pirates holding the tanker at an anchorage. The ship was then released and is now safely under way. The tanker’s 26 crew members are from Bulgaria, Georgia, India, the Philippines, Poland,

Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. With this mixture, the legal process is bound to be complicated.

The secretary-general’s proposals to combat this include basic support for nations in prosecuting suspected pirates, establishment of a Somali court, applying Somali law in a third state in the region; two variants for helping a regional state or states establish a special piracy court inside its existing judicial system; a regional court set up by regional states and the African Union; an international “hybrid” tribunal with national participation by a state in the region; and a full international tribunal, under the aegis of the Security Council.

It is tempting to suggest that these measures are pussy footing around the issue, that hanging is too good for them and that they should be blasted out of the water on sight by on board security agents or a patrolling naval ship or helicopter.

However, the American Courts have found recently that if you want to be a pirate, you must rob or be forcible and depraved aboard. Just because one is in a small craft in the Gulf of Aden wearing a pirate suit and looking like a pirate does not make one a pirate.

In my view, arming merchant ships would escalate the violence, put mariners lives at risk and be more costly than paying the ransom demanded. Finally, it would only deter those people who have no intention of becoming pirates anyway and would be as fruitless as sending troops to Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan has proved.  

As the French would say “Ca va mal finir” – It can only end in tears.

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