According to the NMCI, up to 25 jobs at the college are at risk because of the department’s failure to recognise British accreditation of mariners’ refresher courses held at the college in Ringa-skiddy, Co Cork, in the past year.
The NMCI said it was forced to seek UK accreditation as the department was “tardy” in granting it, but the department said it gave “preliminary approval” to the course this May.
The head of NMCI, Conor Mowlds, and his management team were to travel to Dublin last night in the hope of meeting Transport Minister Shane Ross.
However, Mr Ross said he was not prepared to meet them due to “previous commitments” but they could meet with department officials today instead.
The NMCI argues that UK-accredited certificates are valid in every EU state “as a consequence of the provisions of Article 3 of Directive 2005/45/EC on the mutual recognition of seafarer certificates”.
This refresher training is mandatory for all mariners from January of next year.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin plans to raise the issue with Mr Ross and said “common sense needs to prevail” as there “seems to be a disconnect”.
The department has said it will not recognise the certificates of proficiency, which mean that under changes to maritime law, the mariners — everyone from a ship’s officers to hairdressers on a cruise ship — will not be able to work from January 2017.
Mr Mowlds said the department’s stance means the 400 mariners trained in Cork will be ineligible to renew the mandatory certificates of competency that they need to proceed to sea as of January 1.
“This turf war is putting their livelihoods at risk. It will also have the result of collapsing our fully booked-out courses between now and January next year,” he said. “Our dedicated maritime and offshore joint venture training company Seftec NMCI Offshore Ltd is heavily reliant on the income from these courses to underpin the employment of over 15 full-time staff and 10 part-time staff engaged in delivering these courses.”
The department last night stated that “preliminary approval” for the courses had been sent to the college by the Marine Survey Office (MSO) in May. The NMCI received approval from the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency in August last year and began its courses shortly afterwards.
A department spokesman said the MSO approval was preliminary, which is usual practice, as
”full approval is only given following attendance of an official from [the department]/MSO to ensure satisfactory delivery of the training. To date no notification has been received from NMCI as to when the first course will be held so that the MSO may attend.
“Department officials have been in contact for some time with the NNMCI in relation to the accreditation of the courses. The issue involves some legal and jurisdictional matters which are being pursued by the department.”
BACKGROUND - Turf war at sea: Job fears amid mariner course confusion
In 2010, a delegation of officials from the Department of Transport travelled to Manilla in the Philippines for the Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping (STCW) Convention.
There, it was decided that by January 2017, all mariners — anyone who works on the sea, from a ship’s officers to masseurs aboard a cruise liner — must undertake STCW refresher training in basic sea survival, boat handling, and firefighting skills.
With a near seven-year lead-in, the changes looked entirely feasible for the 2.5m mariners around the world.
In January 2015, senior management from the National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI) in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, applied to the Marine Survey Office, a section of the Department of Transport, for approval to run one of the three-day, €800 STCW courses.
“The indication from them was that it would take up to 12 months before we could even look at our approval,” says NMCI head Conor Mowlds.
With the January deadline now beckoning, NMCI management told the survey office it would have to apply for its course to be accredited in the UK; they couldn’t afford to wait around. Approval was secured in the UK in six weeks.
Since then, the NMCI has trained 400 Irish mariners and the STCW course is booked out for the next six months.
In May, they learnt in an email from MSO that they had ‘preliminary approval’ for accreditation from them.
However, MSO has now told NMCI it will hold all STCW certificates issued by NMCI and its joint venture partners “in abeyance” until the UK authorities clarify under what legislation they can allow these mariners to operate outside the UK and Ireland. In short, it has rendered the course invalid to Irish mariners who sail the world.
Up to 25 full and part-time staff are working on this course and staff were warned of redundancy last week. One staff member has gone already. If the Marine Survey Office and NMCI do not hammer out a deal this week, mandatory severance will begin within days.
Mr Mowlds said: “The department’s actions are not only threatening one section of the college but the whole college’s international reputation.
“This smacks of a turf war, plain and simple. The UK (MCA) administration is highly regarded globally and has approved courses undertaken in other EU member states including France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Croatia, as well as other non-EU countries.”
As 23 more staff worry for their jobs and hundreds of Irish mariners worry if the course they completed is worth the paper it’s written on, Mr Mowlds got a call from international shipping giant Chevron yesterday.
It questioned if, in light of the accreditation queries, it should continue training at NMCI. The global giant has a wider €3m training contract with the college and students they send to Cork spend up to €20,000 a month locally.
By lunchtime, Mr Mowlds was preparing to travel to Dublin with other Maritime College management and with its private partner, Seftec, in the hope of an urgent meeting with Transport Minister Shane Ross.
However, by yesterday evening, the minister’s office had rang to say Mr Ross would not meet with them but they could meet with department officials this afternoon.