Three exam candiates, one handwriting, mmmmm

MCA overhauls certificate test procedures after three engineer officers are caught copying papers - NUMAST Telegraph SEPTEMBER 2006

THE MARITIME & Coastguard Agency has overhauled procedures for UK certificate of competency examinations following a case in which three engineer officers were caught cheating. The three officers — Avilano Alves, from Goa, Pervez Rafique Modak, from Mumbai, and Tahir Malik Mahmood, from Chaklala, Pakistan — had their certificates cancelled at a hearing at the Central London Civil Justice Centre.

Inquiry adjudicator Lionel Persey QC said the UK certificate of competency was ‘a valuable and much-prized qualification in the maritime world’, and candidates were entitled to expect that the examination system is ‘scrupulously fair’. He warned of a ‘very real risk that safety will be ompromised’ if senior officers obtained certificates through dishonesty. The case arose after an examiner noticed differences in the handwriting between the cover and the inside of a workbook submitted by Ishtiyak Modak in an applied mechanics examination leading to a second engineer certificate.

A second workbook completed by the candidate contained the questions to a previous applied mechanics examination. The examiner’s suspicions prompted an investigation by the MCA’s enforcement unit which revealed that Mr Modak had failed the first 10 examinations he had taken. The investigation found that when Mr Modak had achieved passes, he had completed only the front page of each workbook in his own handwriting and that the answers to questions were not in his own handwriting. The MCA declared all his exam results null and void, and banned him from taking any more until July 2008.

As a result of these findings, the MCA decided to conduct a major review of engineering exam papers for the previous five years. Some 5,000 papers were examined, and handwriting experts identified the handwriting of the three engineers as being found on other examination papers that appeared to have been completed by more than one individual. The three were found to have been involved in cases where their work was passed off as that of candidates sitting engineering officers’ exams.

A major MCA review of nearly 5,000 examination papers submitted by engineering officers was triggered by a discovery that an officer sitting an applied heat test had two examination workbooks on his desk containing different handwriting. Handwriting experts identified that Mr Alves, Mr Mahmood and Pervez Rafique Modak were probably the authors of answers given in a number of Ishtiyak Modak’s examination papers.

A formal inquiry was held under Section 61 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 into the fitness of the three officers to hold UK certificates of competency. This ruled that the men’s behaviour was 'misconduct of the most serious kind’. In making his judgement, Mr Persey said there was no place in the Merchant Navy for those who were found to have dishonestly abused the examination system and he recommended that, as well as having their certificates cancelled, the three men should be barred for five years from resitting examinations to regain certificates of competency.

Mr Persey noted that the inquiry had been told that the examination system had been considerably tightened up since the fraud was uncovered. ‘Standards of supervision are higher, workbooks are kept secure prior to each exam sitting and are numbered, and the checking of a candidate’s personal details is more scrupulously attended to,’ he added. But, he stated, ‘it was unfortunate indeed that the system was capable of being abused in the way that happened here. I was surprised that a number of examiners failed to observe that the papers which they were marking had clearly been completed in two different hands’.

Following the case MCA chief examiner Captain Roger Towner stressed that several major changes had been made to certification and examination procedures in a bid to prevent fraud. ‘This matter should make it even clearer to those who assist in an attempt to defraud the UK certification system that they will be placing their own certificate of competency in jeopardy,’ he added.

NUMAST has supported the action taken by the MCA. Senior national secretary Allan Graveson commented: ‘It is important that the integrity of the examination system is maintained, and for this to be achieved the MCA needs to ensure that adequate resources are deployed in nautical colleges for effective policing. ‘Colleges also need to ensure that guidance issued is adhered to,’ he added.