Seafarer Confusion and Vessel Recognition in The Land Down Under

It is not easy being an international seafarer, nevertheless Australian authorities seem to want to make it even more difficult when it comes to recognising their credentials. The latest changes made by AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) appear in stark contrast when compared to the British MCA (Maritime & Coastguard Agency) regulations. Although, both agencies historically had regulations in respect to certification of seafarers, which referred to ships with the increase in Superyachts, codes and regulations needed to keep pace with change.  And while AMSA has attempted regulatory change, the MCA’s The Large Commercial Yacht Code (LY3) makes it easier for clarification on the requirements for Superyacht owners and their crew.

It is not the intention of this article to manifest any unnecessary worry for Superyacht crew or their vessel owners. However, the process of certification in Australia is new and will be tested in the coming years, with possible delays in verification and confusion over requirements. Thus as time, planning and cost are large factors in planning a trip; now might be the sensible time to start planning a trip for 2019. A starting point should be to contact a marine lawyer that specialises in this area as this will make the difference between docking in Australia for a long trip or anchoring for a short one.

When comparing LY3 to AMSA’s Marine Order 52; it’s Fact Sheet STCW 55 for Seafarer Certification; it is easy to see how similarly the two countries are handling the update. But with further analysis red flags start to appear with Marine Order 52, possibly due to Australia’s immigration laws. Whether it is the recent Australian government’s attitude when it comes to immigration and working visas or its attitude towards modern technology there are problems; for example an application forms can’t be downloaded by an Apple Computer. And while visiting the AMSA website, which should ease worries, instead a relevant missing Fact Sheet (or simply a difficult to find Fact Sheet at the time) does form questions on how ready the Australian agency is for the coming storm. 

As seafaring with Superyachts evolves, so do the safety regulations that govern them. In response it has been recognised that the merchant ship safety standards are incompatible with the safety needs of Superyachts however, there is not a common consensus across jurisdictions. First, the new definition, in the recently introduced Marine Order 52, for Large Yacht or Superyacht is defined as a motor or sailing vessels of more than 24 meters in load line length, of 150 gross tonnes or more, in commercial use for sport or pleasure and not carrying more than 12 passengers. However, there seems to be a difference, somewhat confusing, between what Australia and Britain define as pleasure. Second, the need for all new certifications: these certifications are both for the crew and the vessel itself. While the AMSA certification structure is similar to the British LY3, as it was based on it, what is confusing is that Australia fails to at recognise prior certification from around the world. In these respects AMSA only issues Certificate of Recognition for STCW’95 compliant Certificates of Competency from countries with which AMSA has reciprocal recognition. So, if AMSA based its Marine Order 52 on LY3, you have to ask the question why is the MCA Sea Service not transferable to AMSA? 

Is the present situation a case of bad drafting, lack of foresight or the political climate that has ended with the AMSA legislation putting limits on recognition of foreign certification as compared to the LY3. Whether, the Australian government is trying to protect Australian jobs by forcing Superyacht owners to hire local crew or a failed political deal, it appears that certificate recognition or the lack of it was used as leverage. The fact that a seafarer can be certified by the MCA in Australia, but that certification is not recognised by Australia is fairly perplexing.

Ignoring recognition of certification of a Superyachts in Australia, let’s focus on recognition of certification of the crew for a minute: As catch 22s go; getting an Australian working visa is right up there next to the situation that created the term. However, getting your certification recognised in Australia to work on a Superyacht just might be the top contender. To crew a Superyacht isn’t easy however, crewing a Superyacht with a foreign crew in Australia is even harder. To have your foreign certification recognised in Australia you need to at least have a current Australian working visa, which means; you need to be already working in Australia or contracted to be working in Australia, but you can’t work as crew in Australia without recognition of the certificate. This makes us ask the question why anyone would hire someone who is not certified to work in Australia, hoping that their certification will be recognised.

Further, under current legislation, captains with MCA qualifications who wish to return to Australia to continue working on board will take significant time and efforts to get the relevant qualifications. MCA qualifications are restricted to working on private yachts and some crews have given up and left Australia after much wasted effort. If one completes an MCA STCW95 course in Australia, it is not recognised by Australian flagged vessels; it is only recognised by foreign flagged vessels which are sailing overseas or sailing around Australian waters. In comparison: If one completes an AMSA STCW95 course in Australia, it is recognised by both Australian flagged Superyachts and foreign flagged Superyachts sailing overseas or sailing in Australian waters. Sidenote: It is a requirement to hold an STCW95 AMSA ticket on Australian vessels travelling outside Australian waters.

While the creation of LY3 by MCA was done partially to simplify and streamline the recognition of Superyacht seafarer certifications for the crew and vessel, Australian Order 52 doesn’t appear to be following in its wake. One can only assume that the hardship put on Superyacht owners and their crew by the Australian agencies will be amended, as the ink is barely dry on the convention. However, in the meantime the confusion Superyacht owners and crew will be facing could be quite stressful. There are ways to relive this stress that include hiring an Australian crew or giving a marine lawyer a quick call and letting your worries wash away as you get ready to dock and sail in Australia.