Amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 to ensure financial security for abandoned seafarers and for compensation for contractual claims for death and personal injury met unanimous agreement at an International Labour Organisation meeting in Geneva on Friday.
The amendments, if approved, will require member states to ensure that ships sailing under their flags maintain a financial security system that covers such contingencies as abandonment, long-term disability, personal injury or death. The ships will be made to carry on board a certificate proving the coverage, “whether it be in the form of a social-security scheme or insurance or a national fund or other similar arrangements”.
The meeting — the first official Special Tripartite Committee meeting under the MLC, which came into force last August — was attended by more than 300 representatives of seafarers, shipowners and governments.
“It’s a tremendous step forward,” said Arthur Bowring, International Federation of Shipping spokesperson, and head of the shipowners’ committee to the ILO. Mr Bowring, who is also managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association, said that members of the STC have been preparing the amendments for more than a year.
The amendments address what many considered to be a key gap in the MLC, addressing the perennial – and lately growing — problem of ensuring some financial protection for seafarers abandoned by distressed owners. Recent ongoing cases include Today Makes Tomorrow car carrier B Ladybug, with a crew stranded in Malta for more about a year.
The ILO’s abandonment of seafarers database names 159 abandoned commercial ships, with cases unresolved as of March this year. The amendments will now be presented for approval at the next International Labour Conference in June, requiring a two-thirds vote cast by delegates present.
If approved, the amendments will be sent to states that have ratified the MLC with a two-year period for disagreement. Following this, the amendments will be deemed agreed upon unless dissent is heard from 40% or more of the states that represent 40% of the gross tonnage of the ships from nations that have ratified the MLC.
The amendments are to Regulation 2.5 of the MLC, ensuring “provision of an expeditious and effective financial security system to assist seafarers” that have become victims to abandonment.
As Mr Bowring explains, the amendments cover issues of “pre-abandonment” – or establishing whether abandonment has occurred — and “post-abandonment” — ensuring financial security and other support. For the purposes of the amendments, abandonment occurs when the shipowner “fails to cover the cost of the seafarer’s repatriation, has left the seafarer without necessary maintenance and support, or has otherwise unilaterally severed ties with the seafarer including failure to pay contractual wages for a period of at least two months.”
A clause to be added provides that if time is needed to check the validity of a seafarer’s request for assistance, the seafarer will still receive “such part of the assistance requested as is recognised as justified”. Regarding the financial security system, the amendments call for it to “provide direct access, sufficient coverage and expedited financial assistance”.
They provide that assistance provided by the financial security system “shall be granted promptly upon request made by the seafarer” or a nominated representative. The assistance includes payment of outstanding wages and other entitlements due from the shipowner, repatriation expenses and essential needs such as water, food, clothing, necessary medical care and fuel needed for survival on shipboard.
The voting of the STC last week was unanimous save for one abstention. Mr Bowring said that due to the unanimous vote he was optimistic about approval at the ILC meeting in June. “When they come into force, these measures will ensure the welfare of the world’s seafarers and their families if the seafarers are abandoned, or if death or long-term disability occurs as the result of occupational injury, illness or hazard,” ILO director-general Guy Ryder said in a statement on Friday.
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