The European Commission has declared war against unqualified seafarers and is seeking powers to remove incompetent crews from ships operating in EC waters.

Proposals to ban poorly trained seafarers will be submitted to European Community transport ministers later this month. The commission wants to draw up a list of approved certification authorities. Any seafarer not properly

qualified or, even worse, found with a fake qualification certificate, will not be allowed to remain on board ship.Disclosing details of the commission's draft plans, Roberto Salvarani, head of the maritime safety and environmental protection unit at the EC's transport directorate, said he was "shocked and amazed" that many shipowners fail to screen crews thoroughly before entrusting valuable ships and cargo to their care.

The EC initiative, developed in parallel with plans to blacklist substandard classification societies, follows evidence that human error is responsible for most shipping accidents. Consequently, maritime safety experts around the world are switching attention from the hardware side of the industry to personnel, both ashore and at sea.

The International Maritime Organization has accelerated the timetable for revising the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, which is considered out of date.

But even on the fast track, new international rules on seafarer training will not be completed quickly enough to satisfy EC regulators, Mr. Salvarani said at a conference in London.

The EC is not bypassing the IMO, which is responsible for developing international maritime regulations, but "anticipating" IMO law, Mr. Salvarani said. He reckons the EC may be saving seven years by acting on crewing standards in advance of changes to the STCW convention.

Europe already has taken the first steps toward improving seafaring standards by empowering port state control inspectors, who until now have

concentrated on the technical condition of foreign-flag ships, to check crew competence as well.

Non-EC crews still will be welcome on EC-owned ships, Mr. Salvarani promised, as long as they are properly qualified. Ships' crews also must have a common language and a clear-cut chain of command, the EC official said.

But the commission thinks there are far too many authorities issuing certificates that are effectively worthless.

EC action to improve ship safety standards follows several major tanker accidents in EC waters over the past couple of years. The commission earlier this year published an action program in its "Common Policy on Safe Seas" and is formulating proposals into draft directives.