Maritime Labour Convention 2006: A sea change in regulation

21 January 2015• Written by Bransom Bean, • Written by Marilyn Mower
In August 2012, the critical mass of member nations have approved MLC 2006. It will come into force in August 2013.

Unlike the MCA Large Yacht Code of 1998 addressing safety, today’s regulatory conundrum addresses seafarer welfare, and while its language does not address yacht crew specifically, all yacht owners who wish to charter – i.e. operate commercially – are snared in it. At issue is the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), subtitled ‘The Seafarers Bill of Rights’.
The ’2006' in that title means that its wording was already approved years ago by the International Labour Organization (ILO), a component of the United Nations, and is now in the ratification process. No changes or amendments can be made until after ratification by 30 member nations is complete – and with the critical mass being achieved in August 2012, currently the MLC 2006 will come into force in August 2013. Because yachts operating commercially were not specifically excluded, they are included in the rule.

MLC’s impacts are twofold.

First, issues of crew welfare – from taxes, to time off, to medical care – will apply to all crew of all legally chartered yachts, regardless of when they were built.

Second, all yachts built after ratification destined for commercial (charter) service will have to meet mandates addressing the physical arrangement, size and number of crew spaces.

Both of these regulations come into effect in August 2013 now the minimum number of countries have signed the accord.

MLC is intended to be the fourth pillar of international shipping regulation, complementing the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention (STCW 95), and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

Primarily, its purpose is to force improvements in the accommodation, working conditions, medical care, employment rules and welfare of commercial mariners, an estimated 1.2 million or more seafarers toiling aboard more than 50,000 commercial sea-going vessels over 200GT, and vessels under 200GT but over 24m.

If the yacht industry had been listening from the start, it might have asked the ILO if it really meant to include yachts in the group and yacht crews as mariners in February 2006 when the MLC was adopted with 314 votes in favour and no objections.

The word ‘yacht’, notes Michael Breman of builder Lürssen Yachts, does not appear in the wording of the document, either as it relates to their physical working and living spaces or to the sections that relate to benefits.

Cleopatra Doumbia Henry, ILO labour standards director, confirmed those responsible for creating the MLC never considered the world’s 4,000 or so large yachts, how they differ from cruise ships or tankers, or that yachts spend considerable time in port.

In fairness, immediately after adoption of the MLC in 2006, the British MCA as one flag state, indeed the flag state most associated with yachting, established a working group including representatives of seafarers and ship owners to consider the particular situation of large yachts and their difficulties at meeting the requirements. Soon a Large Yacht Subgroup was working diligently on the problem.

Contributing are the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association, (MYBA), the Superyacht Builders Association (SYBAss), the British Marine Federation (BMF), the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA), and the Professional Yachtsmen’s Association.

What they quickly discovered was that if the MLC rules are applied as written to all new superyachts designed for commercial service under 3,000GT (the point at where SOLAS takes effect), on certain sizes of yachts there will be more interior space mandated for the crew than available to the yacht owner and guests.

One benefit of MLC 2006 is that the crew mess can no longer be located below the waterline.

Crew quarters quandary

As written, the MLC presents almost intractable design problems for smaller motor yachts and almost all sailing yachts. A study by SYBAss and ICOMIA examining three yacht size ranges within MCA LY2 for the impact of crew cabin sizes, head requirements and rest areas concluded that the net effect would be that yachts could lose up to 40 per cent of their guest accommodation.

Rather than take the direction of asking for an exemption – a process that could take at least two years after MLC becomes law – MCA, SYBAss and ICOMIA took the approach of proposing equivalencies – trading some crew cabin square footage for a private bathroom, for example, which was not included in the MLC computations. Suffice it to say, there has been a great deal of discussion between representatives of flag states and port states, ILO, SYBAss and ICOMIA and others about ways to not regulate yachts under 3,000GT out of existence.

The result of this discussion, titled Chapters 21a and 21b, were drafted as amendments to the British MCA Commercial Yacht Code LY2 after ILO indicated it would accept these equivalencies if they became part of the code.

Last September, however, MCA brought forward long-anticipated sweeping revisions to LY2 and included the provisions of Chapters 21a and 21b in its draft of Large Yacht Code 3 (LY3). This 169-page document includes more than ten pages devoted to the MLC crew space considerations. This draft, now marching through the internal review process, offers some certainty to yacht owners as to what the design requirements for crew areas of commercial yachts will be like in the near future.

While MLC stipulated a minimum of 4.5 square metres (48 square feet) of open floor space for a single person cabin and not less that 7 square metres (75 square feet) for a double cabin on vessels less than 3,000GT, the LY3 compromise for yachts under 1,250GT establishes minimum floor area on a sliding scale between 3.6 and 4.5 square metres (39 to 48 square feet) for a single cabin, and 6.2 to 7 square metres (66 to 75 square feet) for a double cabin.

Taking into account the unique hull shapes of sailing yachts and smaller vessels, LY3 agrees to smaller cabins provided cabin shape and bunk placement allow free movement of the seafarer’s upper body, but in no cases can the free floor area be less than one square metre.

It’s unlikely that any rational owner would complain about the new minimum standards for crew berths – bunks must be at least 74.8 inches long and 27.6 inches wide (190 x 70cm). In cases where a tapered berth is required, under no circumstances can the berth be narrower than 19.7 inches (50cm) or taper for more than half of its length.

MLC 2006 covers physical spaces and safety and contracts and benefits for all crew on chartered yachts.

Ratification of MLC

The critical mass of member nation approval was reached in August 2012, meaning the regulations come into force in August 2013.

Although existing yachts, and those whose keels are laid prior to the date of implementation, are grandfathered in, some builders and project managers have already begun encouraging owners to accommodate MLC standards.

Ronno Schouten, head of design, De Voogt Design Studio, says that all of the Feadships designed in the past 12 months have acknowledged the new crew area regulations. The first yachts built to these rules will launch in 2013.

But LY3 also carries some rules likely of great benefit to owners, although more than a few of them seem to be legislation of common sense ideas, work safety and practicality.

Among them are safety elements such as new structural requirements for galleys (effective for yachts begun after 1 January 2015). Where LY2 brought fire containment design, LY3 seeks to avert damage a contained fire might cause to other parts of the yacht by prohibiting piping and electrical conduits that serve other parts of the yacht from running through the galley area, and forbids galley exhausts from exiting the yacht through mechanical stacks.

Other changes proposed in LY3 run the gamut from stipulating two methods of ship-to-shore communication and regulating the safety operations of on-board elevators and submersibles, to stipulating that all charter yachts must carry life jackets for ‘large girth persons’.

Of course, if yacht owners don’t want to deal with MLC or LY3, they can simply run their yacht on a purely private basis or shop for a flag state that does not intend to enforce MLC and remain within those waters. (The potential exists for conflicts between flag state and port state rules and even if the owner’s flag state wins, the port state can hold the yacht or deny it’s re-entry until issues are settled.) There is one other workaround: traditional vessels such as dhows are exempted.

MLC itself allows the yacht’s flag state to relax regulations related to accommodation for yachts under 200GT and sailing yachts as long as crew have a reasonable amount of area for free upper body movement. The requirement for a dedicated officers’ day room can be reduced to a temporary facility such as part of the guest accommodation, and mess rooms on smaller yachts could be considered to include the saloon/galley area.

Originally published: Superyacht Owners’ Guide 2012.

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