Non compliance with the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 regulation, which came into force on 7 August, could result in North Sea supply ships being detained says shipping and maritime law expert Katie Williams of Pinsent Masons.
Katie Williams said that although most UK operators were already compliant, vessels operating or passing through UK waters under other national flags could now be at risk of enforcement action. “The Maritime Labour Convention consolidates what has been in place in the UK for some years, but a major change is that for the first time it has an enforcement mechanism with real ‘teeth’,” she said.
“Many shipping companies and charterers have invested significant time and effort in trying to ensure that they will comply with the new regime, however the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as the UK’s enforcement body will be looking to set down a marker that they intend to rigorously apply the new laws. It would be a nightmare scenario for a boat which is chartered at thousands of pounds a day to be detained in port, but it is feasible that in extreme circumstances this could happen,” she said.
In addition, she said that there was also a risk that a British flagged vessel which would be viewed as compliant in the UK could be detained in a foreign port “in circumstances which we would find difficult to understand and this could lead to expensive delays”. This could happen if a complaint was made by a crew member and local port authorities had taken a different approach to interpretation of the MLC, she said.
The MLC was established in 2006 by the International Labour Organisation, an agency of the United Nations that deals with labour issues; and entered into force on 20 August 2013. It applies to all commercial ships entering the harbours of parties to the treaty, as well as to all states flying the flag of a state that is a party. The UK became the 41st ILO member state to ratify the MLC on 7 August 2013 and brought with it the ‘flag states’ of Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.
Williams said that although the MLC would protect seafarers and make owners and operators of commercial ships more accountable, those owners and operators should familiarise themselves with the requirements as they were now equally responsible for matters that had previously solely been a matter for employers.
“Traditionally, grievances or disputes over wages or other working terms would have been a private employment issue between seafarer and employer, but this law creates a new and specific complaints procedure which can be directed squarely at ship owners or operators who will face the same obligations as the employer,” she said.
Kenya is the latest country to have ratified MLC 2006. Over the past few months Ireland, Bangladesh, Argentina, Mauritius, Iran and Belize have all ratified the convention. With Kenya’s decision this brings the total number of countries ratifying to 64. Once a state ratifies it takes a year for the convention to come into force. The convention came into force just over a year ago for the first 30 countries that ratified.
Three major maritime countries, China, India, and the USA, have still yet to ratify the convention.