Friday, April 11, 2014

With Fate of 159 Abandoned Merchant Ships in Limbo Fairer Deal Hammered Out with MLC Amendments

Geneva Vote Means Crucial Support for Seafarers Deserted by Their Employers
Shipping News Feature

SWITZERLAND – WORLDWIDE – Two key proposals for amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention (2006) (MLC) were passed with overwhelming support at today’s Geneva meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and have been welcomed wholeheartedly by those at the sharp end when dealing with the all too familiar problem of crew abandonment. The misery caused when vessels and crews are deserted by their failed or failing owners spreads over thousands of miles and hundreds of families and are a disgrace in the modern world of merchant maritime transport.

At the meeting the proposals, which now go forward to the next ILO International Labour Conference in May for formal adoption, received the support of all but one government with a final tally of 8,890 votes for, none against and 143 abstentions. The amendments were developed over nearly a decade by a Joint Working Group established by the ILO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 1998 and will strengthen the 2006 Convention. They establish mandatory requirements that shipowners have financial security to cover abandonment, as well as death or long-term disability of seafarers due to occupational injury and hazard.

Under the new provisions, ships will be required to carry certificates or other documents to establish that financial security exists to protect seafarers working on board. Failure to provide this protection may mean that a ship can be detained in a port. As of March 2014, the ILO’s Abandonment of Seafarers Database listed 159 abandoned merchant ships, some dating back to 2006 and still unresolved. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, Director of the ILO Labour Standards Department, said:

“These legal standards will provide relief and peace of mind to abandoned seafarers and their families wherever they may be. In addition, by adopting these amendments to the Convention, shipowners and governments are also strengthening its provisions aimed at ensuring a level-playing field for quality shipping around the world. The new measures will guarantee that seafarers are not abandoned, alone and legally adrift for months on end, without pay, adequate food and water and away from home. They also clearly make flag states responsible for ensuring that adequate financial security exists to cover the cost of abandonment, and claims for death and long-term disability due to occupational injury and hazards.”

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) were quick to praise today’s decision and Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF seafarers’ section, is the spokesperson for the organisation at the Geneva session. He commented:

“The MLC has entered a new generation today. We have always known that abandonment would be the priority for this stage two of the MLC, but to see that problem so widely recognised and marked for action has been inspiring.”

The Mission to Seafarers also professed itself very pleased with the outcome. The Mission attended the Special Tripartite Committee meeting and week-long sessions to debate the proposed amendment and says it fully expects the Conference to recognise the essential importance of this strengthening of the MLC. The Revd Canon Ken Peters, Director of Justice and Public Affairs who attended throughout the session at Geneva paid tribute to the desire of the social partners, shipowners and seafarers to work together to find practical solutions, saying:

“The consensus that has formed around the protection of seafarers is significant and pleasing. It shows that Governments, shipowners and seafarers representatives realise that seafarers must not be left without repatriation. The Mission to Seafarers will continue to organise the provision of the basic necessities of life, such as food and drinking water, to those that are relying on us, knowing that repatriation is in sight and seafarers will not be left abandoned indefinitely with only our help to survive.

“Almost all governments clearly showed their intent to ensure the rights of seafarers when confronted by unacceptable conditions. I would also like to pay tribute to my colleagues on the delegation of the International Christian Maritime Organisation. There is clear co-operation between the various maritime charities, who together continue to make a significant contribution to the welfare of seafarers.”

The ILO itself believes that these ‘concrete steps’ toward a fairer deal for the disenfranchised in the seafaring community represent not only a milestone for merchant shipping but an example to other industries worldwide. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, commented:

“The adoption of the Maritime Labour Convention in 2006 was an historical milestone that heralded a new era in the maritime sector. This latest step, building on international tripartite cooperation, is a very significant and inspiring example for other economic sectors. 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. These steps will certainly help improve working and living conditions for seafarers, doing what is right for the women and men in this sector who play a central role in keeping the real economy going with some 90% of world trade carried on ships.”