Maritime Labour Convention 2006: Letters and views from owners

21 January 2015
Sailing yacht Twizzle was under construction when the effects of MLC 2006 on superyachts became known.

The impact of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) legislation on crew accommodation and future yacht design is discussed in our section Maritime Labour Convention.

Here owners of some of the most notable superyachts on the seas today express worries over the implications MLC will have on their current vessels and future builds.

Owner of S/Y_ Twizzle_

I have been really worked up about the ILO rules and have discussed it with various flag registrars and designers. I was going to email Boat International to open up the discussion about the rules as it could potentially stop yachting in its tracks.

Like it or not, this is coming into force the moment sufficient member states ratify the rules, which should happen by year end. Thereafter, all keels laid from January 2012 onwards will have to have crew quarters comply with minimum International Labour Organisation (ILO) requirements which are based on commercial vessel rules.

There has been virtually no industry input save for one designer and maybe one minor yard. Everyone else seems to have assumed there would be an exemption for the yachting and superyacht world. This is just not the case. In the future any yacht over 24m that does not have compliant crew quarters will not be approved for MCA and ISM.

It is all very well for a handful of builders to say their crew areas are compliant as they are building huge volume 60m+ motor yachts the size of a block of flats, but most other builders are constrained in space and cost, especially if below 50m in length.

The problem is even worse for a sail boat. We have the biggest and best sized crew quarters on any sailboat (my wife feels they rival a five-star boutique hotel) and we tried really hard to comply with the ILO rules but just could not do it. Remember that the manning levels have increased because of ISM, MCA and now ILO require single large cabins for officers. This is impossible with a sailboat’s tapered shape.

As it is, we have more crew than most sailboats as we also want to have the full Feadship service levels, but that means that we have to have the chief engineer share with someone much of the time.

There are a number of yards that are going to stop building motor vessels below 600GT. If this is adopted, it probably means that sailboats under 600GT are also nonviable or will have to move away from a Red Ensign Flag (although it does apply to all flags). We are 499GT which, in our opinion, is the limit for a sailboat unless you then go above 650GT and lengthen the sailboat to around 67m! But as you do so, you need more crew and so the crew areas need to be increased yet again!

I believe the fishing industry made representations to the ILO and have been granted an exemption, as have one or two other sub-industries. But as far as I can see, the rules have now been set and it would be difficult to get this changed now.

Unless the ILO grants an exemption for superyachts at this late stage, the only way to comply will be to put the crew in the area reserved for guests and to stuff the guests into the crew quarters, which rather negates the whole point of having a superyacht. Frankly, it is a mess and the number one threat facing the yachting industry.

Lord Laidlaw believes his 68m Feadship Lady Christine has generous crew quarters.

Lord Irvine Laidlaw, owner of Lady Christine

I can’t see how any sailing boat can comply with the new ILO regulations without the crew quarters taking over the whole of the guest area. New motor boats over 500GT may be able to comply, but the existing fleet needs to be grandfathered, (I am not clear from the documents whether this is happening).

We think, in the new Lady Christine, that we have built very generous crew quarters. However, I am not sure whether we will fulfil all of the ILO requirements. I have sent the requirements to RvL and asked them to check floor space, cupboards and drawers etc. We certainly don’t comply on natural light.

The industry could be hurt very hard permanently if all of these requirements are going to be applied with rigour to all boats.

I do think that the ILO has not taken into account the difference between a yacht, 95 per cent of which spend more than eight months in port, and a commercial vessel which spends most of its time at sea.

Mirabella V is the largest sloop in the world.

Comments from Joe Vittoria,_ Mirabella V_

Having read the parts of the new ILO requirements for yachts I find, as usual, regulators doing what their conscience and judgement requires of them without a full understanding of the industry.

This is not unlike the decision in the US, during the term of President George HW Bush, to apply an excise tax of, I believe, 15 per cent on all marine pleasure craft. Within months, the industry died, thousands of boat and yacht working people were laid off and everyone was scrambling to rectify the matter. So many people lost their jobs, the tax revenue dropped since there was little excise tax taken in and employment taxes fell due to the loss of jobs.

These regulations do not make clear the status of yachts already built and in service for several years. Nor does it separate sail from power. Sailing yachts over 500GT and in commercial service do not have the volume available to reorganize the interior to accommodate these rules. New sailing yachts over 200GT, let alone 500GT, as well as many motor yachts, will no longer be built for chartering (commercial service) which will affect the large yacht building industry.

Crew numbers will be slowly reduced due to the lack of new yachts and seafaring jobs. Suppliers to the building industry will lose business and be forced to reduce costs. Shops and restaurants, as well as high food purveyors will be affected by the reduced number of yachts providing customers.

The charter industry on the upper end is very similar to the luxury resort industry. It must provide 24/7 service, but it does not have the space to accommodate the relative staff that a resort would have. In addition, the resort will have many employees who return home and do not require facilities in the resort. Space on yachts will be difficult to find to accommodate the number of crew necessary to operate under these new regulations. The truth of the matter is that owners will not build the yachts since they will be outrageously expensive to operate.

Crew positions on large chartering yachts are considered the plum positions given the current salary rates, the fact that room and board, as well as clothing, are provided. All have their salaries sent to home banks as savings and they are comfortably able to live on cash gratuities left by happy customers who recognize the effort made during the charter.

Furthermore, only the most popular and successful charter yachts do more than 15 weeks a year and most much less, divided usually in two seasons. That does not mean the crew is not working the remaining 33 weeks (allowing four weeks holiday), but the work is on a normal daily work schedule with nothing at night other than anchor watches when required.

Finally, most luxury charter yachts spend very little time in open water. Guests want to be at a dock or anchorage every afternoon to enjoy the other amenities of the yacht and the on-shore opportunities.

My personal concern is that decisions are being made without examining the entire picture of the luxury charter market. What is being enacted (proposed?) will only hurt the builders, the owners and the people who earn their livelihood in this industry.