Maritime Labour Convention 2006: Ratified!

Over the past several years, there has been much talk in the yachting industry about the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006), and not much of it good. The Convention was adopted in 2006 as a comprehensive set of global standards to improve living conditions for commercial seafarers. But charter yacht crew, –who most would argue already enjoy good living conditions, – were included because they weren’t purposely excluded.

The yachting industry joined the discussion too late to be excepted from the Maritime Labour Convention and has spent the last six years catching up and debating how to interpret it. Now the time for speculation is over as the MLC 2006 has been ratified and will officially enter into force on 20 August, 2013.

The Philippines became the 30th nation to ratify the Convention,– thus meeting ratification requirements,– which started the clock on the one-year implementation process. The 30 ratifying member nations of the International Labour Organization (ILO) represent nearly 60 per cent of the world’s tonnage, more than satisfying the 33 per cent required.

When MLC 2006 comes into effect, it will consolidate 68 existing ILO maritime conventions and related recommendations adopted since 1920.

Maritime Labour Convention 2006 explained

There are two sides to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006: To ensure worldwide protection of seafarer’s rights –- the so-called ‘Seafarer’s Bill of Rights’ –- and to establish a level playing field for all countries and ship owners to provide decent working and living conditions for those seafarers.

Employers must provide specific conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodations, recreational facilities, food, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection, compliance and enforcement.

The MLC 2006 will now link to the other key international conventions (SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL) that establish minimum standards for safety, security and marine environmental protections to become the fourth pillar of maritime regulation.

Each flag state that has ratified Maritime Labour Convention 2006 will be responsible for the compliance of all its fleet. In accordance with ILO Resolution XVII, governments have been requested to concentrate initially upon bulk carriers and passenger ships to ensure certification by 20 August 2013.

‘Whilst the main focus of the Maritime Labour Convention is geared towards the merchant fleet, the Convention applies to vessels that are ordinarily engaged in commercial activities,’ says Peter Southgate, advisor for Maritime Policy and Legislation Development for the Cayman Islands Registry.

The definition of ‘commercial’ is left up to each ratifying member. ‘This means that charter yachts will be caught by the provisions of the MLC, and this will extend to those vessels that charter on an occasional basis. It may be possible to switch on and off the “soft” elements of the Maritime Labour Convention when a vessel switches between the modes, but the same cannot be said of the hardware elements, namely the crew accommodation.’

Captain Rod Hatch, chairman of the Professional Yachting Association (PYA) MLC 2006 Work Group, agrees. In a letter to PYA members, Hatch writes that Maritime Labour Convention 2006 effectively applies to any yacht of any size engaging in any form of commercial activity on international voyages.

‘Cannes to Monaco can be construed as an international voyage, so exceptions would be very rare,’ he says. However, Hatch explains that Article II, Paragraph 6 makes it clear that a flag authority may only make provisions for ships of less than 200GT that do not go on international voyages in a tripartite manner.

‘There is essentially no lower size limit to the MLC,’ says Southgate, ‘but there is a greater degree of flexibility for vessels below 200GT. Vessels between 200GT and 500GT do not require a Maritime Labour Certificate, but these vessels will need to comply with the Convention.’

For ships over 500GT engaging in international voyages, the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance Part I (where the flag state demonstrates how the member states intend to comply) and Part II (where the ship owner demonstrates how the ship will comply) forms will be necessary prior to an ILO MLC inspection of the ship by the flag state or a recognized organisation, which essentially will consist of interviews, document review and physical inspections leading to certification.

Yachts flying flags of countries that have not ratified are not immune to the Maritime Labour Convention'’s heavy ramifications if they intend on chartering in a country that has ratified it.

‘A ratifying state is not obliged to accept ships that enter its waters with lesser standards than its own ships have to comply with. Therefore, such ships could be subject to Port State Control and detention etc,’ says Southgate.

He goes on to point out, ‘It is important to note that there is a difference between a state that intends to ratify but has not yet done so, to one that does not intend to ratify.

‘For instance, we (the Cayman Islands) fully intend to ratify, but cannot do so until the UK have done so. Accordingly, we have started to implement the requirements in our national law. As such our ships will be compliant but not certificated and, hence, this should not present an issue with Port State Control.’

Crew accommodation under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006

The crew accommodation standards that have caused much consternation in the yachting industry will apply to keels laid after 20 August 2013.

To make these requirements more palatable for yachts, the PYA has been working with the MCA, MYBA, Nautilus International, Superyacht Builders Association, and flag states to produce standards of substantial equivalence to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 Code (as provided for in Article VI, paragraphs 3 and 4) that will ‘provide decent crew accommodation without inhibiting the future of our industry by forcing owners to forego a substantial volume of guest areas,’ says Hatch.

‘The substantial equivalents have been presented to the ILO and internationally and have gained wide international support,’ says Southgate.

The MCA’s new Large Commercial Yacht Code (LY3) includes these substantially equivalent provisions and will go into effect the same time as the MLC 2006.

For example, for vessels less than 3,000GT, MLC 2006 mandates 4.5 square meters (48 square feet) of free floor area for a single berth cabin, not less than seven square meters (75 square feet) if occupied by two seafarers.

To provide room for sufficient movement in cabins on yachts under 1,250GT, LY3 allows reduced floor areas on a sliding scale between 3.6 to 4.5 square meters (39 and 48 square feet) for a single cabin and 6.2 to 7 square meters (66 and 75 square feet) for a double.

LY3 takes into account the shape and structure of a smaller yacht’s hull. Thus, if the cabin shape and bunk placement allow free movement of a seafarer’s upper body, ‘a reduced free floor area may be provided with the Administration’s agreement but should not be less than one square meter per seafarer’.

According to Julia Gosling, MCA marketing coordinator, ‘LY3 is MLC compliant and will become statutory on the same day as the Maritime Labour Convention, so there will be a harmonious introduction of both standards.

The delay in LY3 becoming statutory provides builders with nearly a year to ensure their new yacht designs are compliant, although many builders… have all been involved in the development of LY3 and the substantially equivalent accommodation standards for some time.’

The UK has not yet ratified the Convention, but the MCA says it expects ratification by the middle of 2013.

Preparing for ratification

Identifying areas where compliance hasn’t been achieved – such as with employment contracts, which, Hatch maintains, will become void and must be replaced by seafarer’s employment agreements, must be done now.

For those ships more than 500GT engaging in international voyages, the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance Part I and Part II forms will be necessary prior to an ILO Maritime Labour Convention inspection of the ship by the flag state.

This will consist of interviews, document review and physical inspections. Most registries have already been preparing for the implementation of the MLC and have plans in place for their ships to become compliant.

‘For captains, there will be additional burdens to bear after implementation,’ says Hatch. ‘There will be a procedure to follow in order to obtain a Maritime Labour Certificate and a Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance.

And as MLC 2006 is separate from ISM, ISPS and any other legislation, the safe course to deal with future port and flag state controls would be to keep a complete set of records dedicated purely to Maritime Labour Convention 2006, no matter what duplication is involved.

‘Beyond this, be ready to provide documentary evidence that each crewmember is aware of, has access to a copy of and understands his/her rights under the Convention’

And for owners desiring greater flexibility in designing their next yacht, now might be the ideal time to get the next build underway.

Originally published: Showboats International, November 2012.

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