Maritime Labour Convention 2006: Implications

21 January 2015• Written by Paolo Moretti, RINA
Under the original MLC 2006 regulations, yacht crew would only be allowed single berths – even couples.

Although the new ILO crew regulations contained within the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) were drafted in 2001, many yards, designers and owners have not taken the regulations into account for their new build projects – with potentially disastrous consequences.

The rules, which are due to come into force in August 2013, state that crew sleeping quarters must meet a minimum square footage. However, they were not drawn up with superyachts in mind and may seriously affect guest versus crew numbers for yachts, particularly between 200GT and 500GT, in turn impacting chartering ability.

Unless concessions can be drawn into the convention, yachts with their keel laid from late 2013 will have to conform to these rules. Boat International summarizes what is happening, how you will be expected to comply, and work being done by industry bodies under the radar to work with the ILO. We also print your views on the proposed legislation.

The background

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is devoted to advancing decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

It formulates international labour standards with conventions and recommendations setting minimum standards of basic labour rights: freedom of association, the right to organise, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labour, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other standards addressing conditions across the entire spectrum of work-related issues.

The ILO was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War One. The constitution was drafted by the Labour Commission, composed of representatives from Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, the UK and the US.

The preamble to the constitution indicates ‘areas of improvements’, which are still valid today, for example regulation working hours; prevention of unemployment and provision of an adequate living wage; and protection for the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment.

Ten–year plan

The decision by the ILO to create the Maritime Labour Convention is the result of a joint resolution in 2001 by the international seafarers’ and ship owners’ organisations, later supported by governments.

The tenth maritime session of the 94th International Labour Conference of the ILO, which was held in Geneva in February 2006, adopted the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, which contains a comprehensive set of global standards, based on those that are presently in force.

For MLC 2006 to come into force, there had to be registered ratifications by at least 30 members with a total share in the world gross tonnage of ships of 33 per cent.


Unless expressly provided otherwise in the regulations and code, the convention applies to all seafarers; all ships – whether publicly or privately owned – ordinarily engaged in commercial activities, other than ships engaged in fishing or in similar pursuits, ships of traditional build, such as dhows and junks, warships, and naval auxiliaries.

The competent authority may decide not to apply certain details of the code to ships of less than 200GT not engaged in international voyages. Such a decision may only be made in consultation with the ship owners’ and seafarers’ organisations concerned and provided that the subject matter is dealt with differently by national laws or regulations or collective bargaining agreements or other measures.

Fortunately, yachts under 200GT (such as Westport 98 models) are exempt from the MLC regulations.


Each ship of 500GT or over, engaged in international voyages, shall carry and maintain a Maritime Labour Certificate issued by the competent authority or a recognised organisation, and valid for a period not exceeding five years, subject to an intermediate inspection to ensure continuing compliance.

Every foreign ship calling in the port of a member may be inspected to review her compliance with the requirements of the MLC. A valid certificate shall be accepted as prima facie evidence of compliance with the requirements of the convention.

However, a more detailed inspection may be carried out where the port state control officer finds that:

The Maritime Labour Certificate and the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (DMLC) are incorrect or not properly maintained;

There are clear grounds for believing that the working and living conditions on the ship do not conform to the requirements of the MLC;

There are reasonable grounds to believe that the ship has changed flag for the purpose of avoiding compliance with the convention; or

There is a complaint alleging that specific working and living conditions on the ship do not conform to the requirements of the convention.

If the ship is found not to conform to the requirements of the MLC, and depending on the nature of the nonconformity found, the ship may be detained until the nonconformities have been rectified.

Impact for superyachts

The MLC will apply to large yachts in commercial service, although some relaxations will be admitted for boats with a gross tonnage less than 200GT.

The new standards for accommodation and recreational facilities are a significant achievement, in particular for those seafarers operating in ocean going commercial vessels. Nevertheless, it appears that these rules were drawn up with no consideration for the superyacht industry.

Joint studies carried out by the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA), the Superyacht Builders Association (SYBAss), the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association (MYBA) and the PYA (Professional Yachtman’s Association) have demonstrated that the 80 per cent of the existing large yachts (30m plus) are unable to fully comply in certain areas of the convention, particularly in the dimensions of crew cabin areas.

Studies show it is extremely difficult for yachts between 200GT and 500GT to comply with the convention and maintain the same number of guests and crew.

It was originally thought that only yachts between 200GT and 500GT would have difficulty in complying with the convention, however that was based on the notion that a sliding scale for yachts in this size would be applied.

The thinking on this as a way of complying with the MLC has now changed and further studies will be conducted.

The superyacht building industry is looking for the following specifically:

Guidance from flag states and the ILO as to how the industry can comply with MLC and maintain the significant numbers of jobs for seafarers as well as those designing, building and supplying superyacht services from all over the world.

A sliding scale approach for the full compliance with the requirements of the crew cabins dimension, ranging from 70 per cent compliance at 200GT to 90 per cent at just under 500GT (yachts over 500GT will have to fully comply with the convention). No exemptions are requested but just a substantial equivalence to compensate crews for having cabins that are smaller than they are entitled to under the MLC, focusing on how yachts operate, crew time off and aggregated days in port after long ocean voyages.

Exemptions for yachts of traditional design. These yachts are to include wooden, racing and J Class yachts.

Exemption from the hospital requirements for those yachts principally used for coastal navigation. For these yachts on longer voyages a cabin must be assigned for medical purposes.The Maritime Labour Convention has noble intentions but could also pose some serious threats to an industry that is struggling to recover from the present economic crisis.

Originally published: May 2010.