On 13 October 2016 the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport issued a circular called «Review of Single Circular No. 17 of 12 December 2008», implementing Ministerial Decree of 25 July 2016 and bringing «further clarifications on adjustment and renewal» of seafarers’ certification, in order to bring Italian law in accordance with the 2010 Manila amendments to the 1978 STCW Convention.

Such document was long awaited, after Italy’s long delay, and is expected to elicit strong debate.

The circular is structured in four main points: (i) the procedure whereby the employees concerned may personally apply for the conversion of their licenses, diplomas and professional qualifications into Certificates of Competency (CoCs) and Certificates of Proficiency (CoPs) by 1 January 2017 and the specific cases in which they are allowed to apply on line by 2 January 2017 (ii) clarifications about fast rescue boat training (MABEV); (iii) the possibility of continuing to use the training record book under managerial resolution of 31.12.204, pending review to ensure compliance with the 2010 Manila amendments; and (iv) clarifications in respect of the amendment, renewal and issue of the certification.

Concerning the fourth point, the circular specifies that «the adjustment of the original expiry date of the certificates shall not be construed as a renewal thereof». Therefore, «a seafarer whose certification is due to expire on 31 December 2016 or on 1 January 2017 shall submit to the competent Harbour Master only the training courses required by the certificate to be updated», in accordance with the procedure set out in previous circulars. The Ministry reiterates to Harbour Masters that «certificates of competency shall be adjusted as soon as possible in order for seafarers to be able to board». Such clarification is intended to provide an effective solution to the widespread concern that the alignment to the 1978 STCW Convention, by introducing the Manila amendments but also additional measures, may prevent Italian seafarers, but not foreigner seafarers who are subject to less strict requirements, from boarding.

A further controversial issue is whether the masters, chief engineers, chief mates and second engineers who hold certificates in accordance with Circular No. 32/2015 should attend a further training course to have their licences renewed by 31 December 2018. In this regard, seafarers have expressed reservations as to the training required (300 hours for deck crew and 570 for engineers), which will unlikely be borne by shipowners, also in consideration of accommodation and meal costs, but will more likely be handled by few agencies of the Ministry of Transport. 

Obvious difficulties arise also for seafarers who are currently serving on-board and may therefore be unable to attend the training course required due to its high number of hours, which will probably require a 2- or 3-month daily attendance. A lot of controversy has also emerged as to the need for officers to attend a training course aimed at providing skills they have already developed, having obtained the necessary qualifications to do their work.

2. On 30 September 2016 a meeting was held before the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, among the General Command of the Harbour Masters, Confitarma and trade unions, to discuss the long-standing problem of the breach, by numerous shipowners who only formally fly the flag of a Member State, of the provisions of Council Regulation (EEC) No. 3577/92 on maritime cabotage (also from the perspective of the nationality of crew members and the application of national collective bargaining agreements).

In this regard, the trade unions approved a proposal for introducing the obligation for shipowners flying the flag of a Member State to file a self-certification with the Harbour Master whereby they assume criminal liability for the statements about the nationality of their crew and the cabotage services (maritime transport services within a Member States) which they intend to provide in Italian waters. Furthermore, the General Command of the Harbour Masters reserved the right to request an assessment from the Attorney General as to the punitive implications envisaged.

Such proposal is intended to prevent infringement of Community law and, therefore, unfair competition within maritime cabotage through employment of extra-EU workers to the detriment of Italian workers. At this stage, the trade unions’ proposal is quite generic and further meetings should be arranged to identify the scope of any criminal liability that may be incurred by shipowners.