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Mixed reactions to disbandment of syllabus committee
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Mixed reactions to disbandment of syllabus committee

SAMSA syllabus committee disbands

SOUTH AFRICA: Following comments levelled at the fishing sector that implied fishers were not capable of understanding the content of a Personal Survival Training course during a meeting last week, the Chief Examiner took the step to promptly end the meeting and immediately disband the committee.

Those involved in the meeting had mixed reactions to the course of action taken by Chief Examiner at the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Azimbavhi Nelwamondo with some questioning his mandate to make this decision.

Addressing a proposal to merge the PST course to include both merchant mariners as well as fishers during the meetings last week, one stakeholder suggested that those attending from the fishing sector would not be able to comprehend the course content should this proceed.

“In effect, separating them would mean that the capacity of one to learn is determined by their future employment, not the skills being learnt. The arguments also undermine their ability to learn – whether they are new recruit or existing recruit. An argument I likened to the old policy which determined that on basis of race/gender, you could not be capable of learning certain skills – just this time we would be doing that based on the industry subsector you work in or going to work in,” said Nelwamondo Responding to questions from Maritime Review following the disbandment of the committee

Adding that the decision is not likely to have an impact on the training sector in the short term, he added that the committee will be reconstituted with a terms of reference to cover the functioning of the committee.

“In the reforming of the committee, workshops will be held with all stakeholders in different ports. Invitations for these will go out through Marine Notices, our website and social media platforms. Our plans are still to have the next committee meeting towards the end of the year as originally planned. So, our reformation of the committee timelines have to be in line with that target,” he explained further.

Maritime Review reached out to some of the industry stakeholders who were present in last Wednesday’s meeting. Reactions to the comments made during the meeting as well as the resultant action were mixed.

One training stalwart noted that combining the two sectors (merchant navy and fishing sector) within the same training environment was not conducive to offering the best training to either group. He added that reconstituting the committee would not address the real issues facing the fishing sector – namely the cost and level of training available to them.

Reading between the lines of some of the responses it does seem that the comments relating to the need to provide a different type of training to the fishing sector relates more significantly to the small scale and community fishers who perhaps have not been exposed to the levels of literacy of deepsea fishers as well as those at sea in the merchant navy.

This can be the only explanation for those that noted the need for comments that indicate that “fisherfolk need a more basic level of explanation; lots of examples; pictures; practical demonstrations; hands on training.”

But to consider the fishing sector as one homogenous entity is a mistake and it is clear that the comments struck a chord with many people in the meeting.

“I am deeply perturbed by the fact that these comments are always made by individuals supposedly representing various sectors within fishing but their real agendas are based on personal gain,” said one participant we reached out to.

“I think that fishermen understand perfectly well and are just as capable as anyone else. I agree with the chairman that we should not limit anyone. I was a fisherman myself for 21 years before venturing into training. We should view proceedings in context and in this case we were talking about Basic Safety Training, not qualifications.  Basic Training is a requirement and inherently the same across all industries.

“It does not matter if you are fishing or working on foreign going ships and therefore the standard should apply and anyone not meeting the standard should not be certified. The fishermen have been trained under STCW standards for years in terms of Basic Safety Training and there have never been obvious problems doing so. Fishermen are quite capable of being successful in these courses that were discussed. We should give them more credit for their achievements,” noted another industry insider.

Also speaking from within the fishing sector, another stakeholder vocalised her support of the decision. “It is not the first time that similar or same comments have been made. SAMSA tabled a suggestion which will be beneficial to the fishers, as it will increase their employment opportunities, but selfish individuals serving on these committees for personal gain, are consciously striving to have our communities remain in poverty,” she said.

“So many of the fishers within the industry have already completed the STCW PST, as its a requirement for all certificated personnel who form part of the safe manning of a vessel. Also, several initiatives to improve safety in especially the small-scale sector have been implemented over the years, by several stakeholders including SAMSA; and hundreds of these fishers were deemed competent and certificated despite their low educational levels. Therefore, the comments made are insulting to our fishers and impeding on the growth and development of their communities,” she continued adding that the decision could delay the implementation of the required new syllabi as prescribed by the STCW-F.

“This will force the fishing industry to employ even more STCW certificated officers as the development as part of succession planning cannot continue without syllabi available, which in turn reduces the employment opportunities for our fishers and youth in our communities.”

Most are in agreement with the Chief Examiner, however, that the disbandment will have little impact on the sector for a variety of reasons, but all agree that the need for consultation with the industry should not be abandoned.

“I do hope that the voice of the seafaring community is not silenced by the weight/power of the state organ to decide what they will and will not allow. Dialogue is really an important part of democracy.  Any challenge to this right to have an adult discourse with the policy makers should be encouraged not shut down,” said another participant in the meeting, adding that seafarers generally do not have the opportunity to provide their perspective on education and training.

“It is imperative that the Syllabus Committee stands impartial and does what is best for all seafarers. Our task as members is (was) on a consultation basis guiding or providing evidence to them why certain aspects should or should not be applied. Decisions cannot be based on what each one of us wants as an individual, but should collectively guide us to what is best for the industry and the successful implementation even if that person's future that we are discussing is not in our industry.”

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