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Abandoned seafarers – A thing of the past?

The adoption of amendments to the MLC 2006

mlc-abandoned

In June 2014, the International Labour Organisation marked another significant milestone for safeguarding the rights of seafarers. The adoption of amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) will protect abandoned seafarers and provide financial security for death or longterm disability of seafarers.

But will the new requirements, which are expected to enter into force in 2017, shepherd in a new era that will bring to an end seafarers being abandoned by shipowners? The impact of abandonment not only has the consequence of emotional and financial hardship for affected seafarers and their dependents but has negative implications for the broader maritime sector.

So what is abandonment? As opposed to drafting a one size fits all definition, the amendments spell out three (3) core measures in which a shipowner may be failing:

  • paying the cost of the seafarer repatriation
  • providing the seafarer with on board maintenance and support
  • unilaterally cutting the contractual tie with the seafarer, including stopping payment of the seafarer’s wages for two months

One or more of these measures will result in the affected seafarer being considered as abandoned and the seafarer will have access to the compulsory financial security system, which must be provided by a ship-owner prior to the ship being issued a Maritime Labour Certificate.

Whilst financial security provision is incorporated in MLC 2006, the amendments have extended these provisions to enable more transparency of the system, direct access to the system by the seafarer and obligation for notification to the seafarer and flag state if the system is to be cancelled or terminated.

One critical aspect of the financial security system is that a seafarer’s entitlement to outstanding wages is limited to four months of such outstanding payments. This clarity of limitation enables the seafarer to decide whether to leave the ship within four months, having the guarantee that outstanding wages as well as the cost of repatriation and costs associated are covered, OR, remain on the ship for an unknown period with the hope of securing additional funds.

The challenge of ensuring that images of seafarers languishing on board a ship at anchor in a harbour and relying on hand-outs from the local seafarers charity is consigned to the history book will be dependent on:

  • MLC 2006 being ratified by more maritime nations
  • Ratifying parties’ consistent application of the MLC 2006 provisions.

The Bahamas as a MLC 2006 ratifying party is drafting the required amendments to the Bahamas Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Regulations and the BMA is developing, in consultation with its tripartite stakeholders, the guidelines to enable effective implementation of the amendments.

Shipowners should note that the BMA has engaged with the International P&I Group and other insurance providers. It intends to publish a list of accepted financial security providers that recognise the measures being undertaken to incorporate the MLC 2006 abandonment provisions in their rules.

Source: BMA News

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