Thousands Of SA Seafarers Face Axing From 'White List' That Allows Them To Work Abroad

 South African flagged ships and about 5 000 South African seafarers trained in this country face being struck off the International Maritime Organisation’s "white list" – meaning they would be unable to work in international shipping.

Not only South Africa, but several major maritime countries such as the UK, Netherlands, and the Philippines also face being axed from the IMO’s white list.

The prospect has caused consternation in the local maritime industry.

Rob Whitehead, president of the Society of Master Mariners South Africa, described the matter as a "very serious issue".

"It can potentially affect a lot of South Africans working abroad or on foreign vessels. I’ve been warning people for a while and prompting them to take action. South African seafarers have always had a very good reputation. South Africa is not alone in this. It will also apply to some major maritime nations," Whitehead said.

It is estimated that there are 4 500 to 5 000 South African-trained seafarers. Almost all are employed abroad on foreign ships, as there are only a few South African flagged ships.


The problem of being axed from the "white list" emerged from amendments to one of the IMOs international conventions.

The IMO, the UN agency responsible for safety of shipping and prevention of pollution, has established various conventions to which all maritime nations are signatories.

One of these is the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) that sets minimum qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships.

Mandatory training

This STCW training is mandatory for seafarers of all countries, and no seafarers can work in international shipping unless they are trained in this convention. All countries that complied with the STCW convention were on the IMO’s "white list" – including South Africa.

In 2010 the IMO made amendments to these training standards at a meeting in Manila, in order to ensure that seafarers’ training was up to date with new technological and operational requirements. These were called the Manila amendments.

All signatories to the convention – in effect all maritime nations – then had to submit to the IMO a report showing that their training institutions for seafarers met the new standards of the Manila amendments. The IMO also required a report from an independent evaluator.