Maritime Labour Convention Set To End Abandonment Nightmare

The MLC 2006 comes into force from next month and unions believe it should protect seafarers caught up in the financial difficulties of owners

Unions are hoping that the upcoming Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 will see abandoned seafarers, faced with similar situations to those trapped for nearly six months on the combination carrier (OBO) A Whale (built 2010), leave with air tickets home and unpaid wages in hand.

A total of 21 crew have been stuck on the 320,000-dwt OBO at anchorage near Suez, caught up in the financial problems of Taiwan’s Today Makes Tomororw (TMT) Group. The situation was resolved this week when TMT finally agreed to pay the men and repatriate them.

The convention comes into force on 20 August and protection- and-indemnity (P&I) clubs, as earlier reported by TradeWinds, have made repatriation cover available to owners from that date to try to make sure funds are available for crew to go home in cases of insolvency.

But officers’ union Nautilus International is highlighting that it is the certifying flag state’s responsibility to make sure that owners have the financial provisions in place to meet repatriation costs and can pay for crew to go home.

Nautilus director of legal services Charles Boyle points out under MLC 2006 that, if the shipowner will not repatriate, ultimately it will be up to the flag state to foot the bill.

Yet the picture is complicated because some labour supply countries have not yet ratified the agreement.

Boyle said: “In the case of the A Whale, Liberia was the MLC-ratifying country, but the crewing agency was in India. In such cases shipowners’ based in a ratifying country will be required under MLC to check, as far as practicable, that agencies in a non-ratifying country meet the MLC standards.

“The TMT Group has filed for bankruptcy protection in a court in Houston, and the Indian shipping ministry is working on repatriating the stranded A Whale crewmembers and settling their wage dispute. If the MLC was in force, Liberia as the flag state would have to repatriate them.”

P&I insurer the North of England Club has further pointed out that crew managers may also be asked to refund the repatriation bill. “If a crew manager is entered as a joint member¿¿it may be required to indemnify the club for repatriation costs incurred by the club on behalf of the shipowner as a result of insolvency,” it said in a note explaining the repatriation insurance.

P&I not liable for wages

The P&I insurance will not cover outstanding wages. In the case of the A Whale, many of the crew wanted to stay onboard until the outstanding wage bill, which at one point was more than $400,000, had been settled.

Yet MLC 2006 places responsibility on the flag state to make sure that outstanding wages can be paid. Nautilus’s Boyle points out that a flag state that has ratified the MLC must make sure shipowners provide a system of protection to meet any financial losses affecting seafarers, including wages.

In the case of the A Whale, Liberia said that it would be prepared to pay for the men to go home even prior to the enforcement of the MLC 2006, and it said it would help the men recover outstanding wages by securing assets, although it could not pay the bill itself.

So far, 39 member states of the International Labour Organisation have ratified MLC 2006, including the world’s largest flag states — Panama, the Marshall Islands and Liberia. There are, however, some notable omissions including the UK and US.

The UK, a major national flag state, had intended to ratify by this summer, although it has still not completed the process.

For more maritime news see Tradewinds

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