IMO White List

Sep 8, 2009

by Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq.
Director, Center for Seafarers' Rights
The Seamen's Church Institute

On December 6, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) announced that seventy-one countries and one Associate Member* were on its long-awaited “White List” of countries that the IMO has determined to be in full compliance with the 1995 amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping of Seafarers (STCW).

This was a very important announcement for seafarers because their livelihoods depend upon their certificates and endorsements being recognized around the world. Modern ship operations require highly trained and competent ship’s crews. Before mariners can get jobs on ships, they must have certificates or endorsements that attest to their training and qualifications. These certificates or endorsements are issued by flag states. Because mariners may work on ships from many countries during their careers, it is important to them that many countries recognize their certificates.

The 1995 amendments to the STCW were welcomed by professional mariners because, among other things, they put a high priority on the human elements of maritime safety, they set clear training and certification standards that recognized the complexities of their work, they required all member countries to follow the same standards (98 percent of the world’s shipping tonnage is registered in countries that are parties to the STCW), they required flag states to ensure that mariners on their ships meet the STCW standards, and they enhanced port state control provisions. Proof of compliance with the 1995 amendments to the STCW would be established by STCW 95 certificates or endorsements issued to individual mariners by flag states. The 1995 STCW amendments became effective on February 1, 1997. By February 1, 2002, all mariners must have STCW 95 certificates or endorsements.

At the time of the amendments, many STCW member states were concerned about some countries’ capabilities to comply with them. The amendments placed a new burden on flag states that endorse other member states’ certificates, to confirm that the original certificates were issued in accordance with STCW 95. They were afraid that some countries would not be able to get their training facilities or certification procedures up to the STCW 95 standards by the February 2002 deadline. In an unprecedented affirmation of the IMO, the STCW member states asked the IMO to verify member states’ compliance with the 1995 amendments. The “White List” is the result of the IMO’s review of applications from 82 countries.

What does the “White List” mean to mariners?  If a country is on the “White List,” it means that the IMO has deemed it to be in full and complete compliance with STCW 95. Accordingly, other countries should accept their certificates and amendments. Mariners holding certificates or endorsements issued by “White List” countries should find it easier to get a job on a foreign ship and to get endorsements from other countries than seafarers whose certificates are from countries not on the “White List”. However, countries are not required to accept certificates and endorsements from “White List” countries and may choose to look beyond merchant mariner’s certificates and directly assess mariners’ competence.

The fact that a country is not on the “White List” does not invalidate its certificates or endorsements. STCW certificates and endorsements from countries not on the “White List” remain valid. However, port state control is not likely to accept these documents at face value. They may detain vessels until shipowners can establish by other means that each crewmember is in compliance with STCW 95. As a practical matter, to avoid detentions, shipowners will be reluctant to hire mariners who do not possess certificates or endorsements from “White List” countries. 

* The seventy one member countries and one Associate Member of the IMO included on the white list are:  Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark (including Faeroe Islands), Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Latvia, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Rep. of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Samoa, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom (including Isle of Man, Bermuda, Cayman Islands & Gibraltar), USA, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam and China Hong Kong.