The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) was adopted by IMO on July 07, 1978 in London. As the name suggests, the Convention has been created to set minimum training, certification and watchkeeping standards for masters and officers which countries are obliged to meet or exceed. The Convention came into effect in 1984 after the ratification by pre-requisite number of countries. The STCW Convention was the first major initiative to set minimum requirements on training, certification, and watchkeeping for seafarers on an international level. Prior to this, these standards and ratings were set by individual nations ignoring the existing practices in other countries. That resulted into wide variations in standards of training and certification of mariners, and thus STCW came into force to deal with this problem. By 2011, there were 155 signatories to STCW Convention, which represents 98.9 % of global shipping tonnage.

IMO made major amendments to STCW Convention in 1995 at the behest of US Coast Guard. These amendments didn’t require ratification by signatory nations like the original convention. However, STCW 95 amendments completely re-wrote enforcement procedures related to the Convention. They led to the division of technical annex into regulations and creation of an STCW Code, which sets stringent standards for mariners to meet. Part A of the STCW Code is made mandatory while Part B is recommended.  Another major change was the requirement for signatories to provide detailed information to IMO regarding administrative measures taken to ensure compliance with the Convention. Earlier IMO was not directly involved in areas related to compliance and implementation, and it was the responsibility of flag States to ensure compliance. These amendments came into force from February 1, 1997.

Other major amendments (known as Manila amendments) to the STCW Conventions were adopted in June 2010 that made significant changes in the existing Convention and Code. Aimed at making the Convention and Code up to date to address new issues in this area, these amendments entered into force on January 01, 2012 under the tacit acceptance procedure.

STCW Convention chapters

Chapter I - General Provisions

They include the following:

Ensuring compliance with the Convention
Parties to the Convention are required to provide detailed information to IMO concerning administrative measures taken to ensure compliance with the Convention. This represented the first time that IMO had been called upon to act in relation to compliance and implementation - generally, implementation is down to the flag States, while port State control also acts to ensure compliance. Under Chapter I, regulation I/7 of the revised Convention, Parties are required to provide detailed information to IMO concerning administrative measures taken to ensure compliance with the Convention, education and training courses, certification procedures and other factors relevant to implementation.

By 1 August 1998 - the deadline for submission of information established in section A-I/7 of the STCW Code - 82 out of the 133 STCW Parties had communicated information on compliance with the requirements of the revised Convention. The 82 Parties which met the deadline represent well over 90% of the world's ships and seafarers.

The information is reviewed by panels of competent persons, nominated by Parties to the STCW Convention, who report on their findings to the IMO Secretary-General, who, in turn, reports to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) on the Parties which fully comply. The MSC then produces a list of Parties in compliance with the 1995 amendments.

The first list of countries was approved by the MSC at its 73rd session held from 27 November to 6 December 2000 – it included 71 countries and one Associate Member of IMO.

Port State control
The revised Chapter I includes enhanced procedures concerning the exercise of port State to allow intervention in the case of deficiencies deemed to pose a danger to persons, property or the environment (regulation I/4). This can take place if certificates are not in order or if the ship is involved in a collision or grounding, if there is an illegal discharge of substances (causing pollution) or if the ship is manoeuvred in an erratic or unsafe manner, etc.

Other regulations in chapter I include:

Measures are introduced for watchkeeping personnel to prevent fatigue.

Parties are required to establish procedures for investigating acts by persons to whom they have issued certificates that endanger safety or the environment. Penalties and other disciplinary measures must be prescribed and enforced where the Convention is not complied with.

Technical innovations, such as the use of simulators for training and assessment purposes have been recognized. Simulators are mandatory for training in the use of radar and automatic radar plotting aids (regulation I/12 and section A-I/12 of the STCW Code).

Parties are required to ensure that training, certification and other procedures are continuously monitored by means of a quality standards system (regulation I/8).

Every master, officer and radio operator are required at intervals not exceeding five years to meet the fitness standards and the levels of professional competence contained in Section A-I/11 of the STCW Code. In order to assess the need for revalidation of certificates after 1 February 2002, Parties must compare the standards of competence previously required with those specified in the appropriate certificate in part A of the STCW Code. If necessary, the holders of certificates may be required to undergo training or refresher courses (regulation I/11).

Chapter II: Master and deck department

The Chapter was revised and updated.

Chapter III: Engine department

The Chapter was revised and updated.

Chapter IV: Radiocommunication and radio personnel

The Chapter was revised and updated.

Chapter V: Special training requirements for personnel on certain types of ships

Special requirements were introduced concerning the training and qualifications of personnel on board ro-ro passenger ships. Previously the only special requirements in the Convention concerned crews on tankers. This change was made in response to proposals made by the Panel of Experts set up to look into ro-ro safety following the capsize and sinking of the ferry Estonia in September 1994. Crews on ro-ro ferries have to receive training in technical aspects and also in crowd and crisis management and human behavior.

Chapter VI: Emergency, occupational safety, medical care and survival functions

The Chapter incorporates the previous Chapter VI: Proficiency in survival craft and includes mandatory minimum requirements for familiarization, basic safety training and instruction for all seafarers; mandatory minimum requirements for the issue of certificates of proficiency in survival craft, rescue boats and fast rescue boats; mandatory minimum requirements for training in advanced firefighting; and mandatory minimum requirements relating to medical first aid and medical care.

Chapter VII: Alternative certification

Regulations regarding alternative certification (also known as the functional approach) are included in a new Chapter VII. This involves enabling crews to gain training and certification in various departments of seafaring rather than being confined to one branch (such as deck or engine room) for their entire career.Although it is a relatively new concept, the 1995 Conference was anxious not to prevent its development. At the same time, the new Chapter is intended to ensure that safety and the environment are not threatened in any way. The use of equivalent educational and training arrangements is permitted under article IX.

Chapter VIII: Watchkeeping

Measures were introduced for watchkeeping personnel to prevent fatigue. Administrations are required to establish and enforce rest periods for watchkeeping personnel and to ensure that watch systems are so arranged that the efficiency of watchkeeping personnel is not impaired by fatigue.

The STCW Code

The regulations contained in the Convention are supported by sections in the STCW Code. Generally speaking, the Convention contains basic requirements which are then enlarged upon and explained in the Code.

Part A of the Code is mandatory. The minimum standards of competence required for seagoing personnel are given in detail in a series of tables. Chapter II of the Code, for example, deals with standards regarding the master and deck department.

Part B of the Code contains recommended guidance which is intended to help Parties implement the Convention. The measures suggested are not mandatory and the examples given are only intended to illustrate how certain Convention requirements may be complied with. However, the recommendations in general represent an approach that has been harmonized by discussions within IMO and consultation with other international organizations.

The White List

The first so-called "White list" of countries deemed to be giving “full and complete effect” to the revised STCW Convention (STCW 95) was published by IMO following the 73rd session of the Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), meeting from 27 November to 6 December 2000.

It is expected that ships flying flags of countries that are not on the White List will be increasingly targeted by Port State Control inspectors. A Flag state Party that is on the White List may, as a matter of policy, elect not to accept seafarers with certificates issued by non White List countries for service on its ships. If it does accept such seafarers, they will be required by 1 February 2002 also to have an endorsement, issued by the flag state, to show that their certificate is recognized by the flag state.

By 1 February 2002, masters and officers should hold STCW 95 certificates or endorsements issued by the flag State. Certificates issued and endorsed under the provisions of the 1978 STCW Convention will be valid until their expiry date.