01.10.2017, 17:46 Uhr

OCEAN & ISSA: A long history of supporting seafarers and fighting crew abandonment

Can the new MLC insurance requirement help European ship suppliers handing a helping hand?

 As the ISSA Secretary Spencer Eade writes, OCEAN’s support of the EU measures to improve working conditions of seafarers on board of EU-flagged vessels is another tangible measure in how the global ship supply community has supported the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) provisions on crew abandonment that came into force earlier this year. ISSA & OCEAN stand shoulder to shoulder with seafarers in the EU and globally against crew abandonment.

 Improving the working conditions of seafarers on board of EU-flagged vessels is important for OCEAN and ISSA, the International Shipsuppliers & Services Association (ISSA). Both organisations have a long record of accomplishment of helping seafarers in distress.

Crew abandonment: What is it?

Abandonment occurs when the ship owner fails to cover the cost of the seafarers’ repatriation; or has left the seafarer without the necessary maintenance and support; or has otherwise unilaterally severed their ties with the seafarer including failure to pay contractual wages for a period of at least two months.

Ship suppliers: Often first port of call for crew in distress

Often, it is the local ship supplier who comes to the rescue and supports the stranded crew until help is obtained. Until this year, the costs associated with this “rescue mission” regularly fell on the ship supplier without any possibility to reclaim expenses occurred whilst supporting the abandoned crew. This was an international problem ISSA simply had to address!

What is the MLC?

The 2006 adoption of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) was a first step in the right direction. The MLC aimed to create a single, coherent instrument embodying all up-to-date standards applying to international maritime labour. Still today, it is the baseline for a set of rights and protection measures at work for all seafarers regardless of their nationality or the flag of the ship. The Convention addresses some of the problems relating to abandonment and other measures.

Who has ratified the MLC in the EU?

So far the MLC has been ratified by 81 countries including all the EU Member States (except, obviously, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) and the provisions were incorporated into EU law by Council Directive 2009/13/EC.

ISSA helped to develop database of abandoned vessels

ISSA was fully engaged in the development of the MLC and, in addition, funded half the development and establishment costs of ILO’s on-line Database containing details of abandoned vessels.

Ship suppliers’ costs associated with saving crews’ life not refundable

However, seafarers’ abandonment kept occurring. According to data collected by the International Labour Organisation, since 2004, 192 merchant ships have been abandoned, of which 21 were EU-flagged vessels (Even in 2016 five merchant vessels with 58 seafarers were abandoned in EU ports). And still ISSA and OCEAN members often came to the rescue. But the global nature of the shipping industry, with different national laws applying depending on the state of the ship owner, the flag state of the vessel or the nationality of the crew, made it difficult for seafarers and ship suppliers to get speedy and satisfactory redress in case of abandonment and the costs associated with it.

New MLC’s insurance addresses financial challenges of crew abandonment

This year, ISSA and OCEAN very much welcomed the new Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) provisions on crew abandonment. For the first time, payment for supplies delivered to an abandoned vessel will now be paid for from the insurance policy that becomes mandatory. This is a significant millstone for OCEAN and ISSA who in the past have, out of the goodness of their hearts, supplied abandoned crews with stores whilst they wait for a resolution to their plight. Under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), amendment of 2017, ship owners must now have insurance to assist the seafarers on board vessels if they are abandoned. All ships, to which the convention applies, whose flag states have ratified the MLC must have the insurance certificate on board and on show in English. This will allow ship suppliers to assist an abandoned crew in times of need and be able to make a corresponding insurance claim. A significant achievement.

This provision has been a long time coming, and, just as with the MLC itself, ISSA and OCEAN are proud to have been involved since its conception, working alongside the ILO, governments and shipping organisations.

Will European ship suppliers benefit from the new MLC insurance requirement?

Now, we need to make sure the EU enshrines into European legislation that the insurance will cover seafarers’ wages and ship suppliers’ costs arising out of providing essential emergency services. As such, where abandonment occurs and the crew turns to the ship suppliers as a first port of call for repatriation services, food, clothing where necessary, accommodation, drinking water, essential fuel for survival on board and any necessary medical care, the financial burden to the ship supplier is fully taken care of. The insurance must apply from the moment of abandonment to the time the services of the ship supplier cease.

Final thoughts

It is important that seafarers themselves check the validity of the insurance certificate on board and can provide details to the ship supplier so he can help. We also recommend to visit the webpage of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) at www.itfseafarers-abandonment.org for more information.

ISSA and OCEAN are proud to support seafarers across the globe.