The Trouble with MLC, 2006

Mar 27th 09
By Lauren Beck [Photo: Capt. Mark O'Connell]

Although no crewmember would describe their crew quarters as luxurious – unless you’re very, very fortunate – most wouldn’t consider them squalid, either. That’s not necessarily true on board commercial ships and container vessels and that fact is going to have some serious repercussions throughout the yachting industry.

The ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 was drafted with the objective to set minimum labor standards to address the health, safety and welfare of seafarers on board ships. “It’s about respect for the seafarers – [right now] they’re treated like a commodity…this would take care of the basics,” said Lloyd’s Register’s ILO Development Manager Roland Ives, who addressed a crowd at the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Conference in Miami, March 19.

Applying the labor principles as laid out by the MLC seems pretty straightforward when it comes to tankers and cargo ships. But their elegant superyacht cousins are a different story.

“MLC 2006 will be the most explosive Convention to hit the marine industry,” said Peter Southgate, the deputy divisional director of the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry, a panelist at a manning conference held later that day.

No arguments there – the superyacht industry falls into a gray area and that seems to be the cause of much confusion.

Does the MLC apply? Yes – yachts are ships, crew are seafarers. And there is no minimum tonnage limit unless specifically stated in each individual title of the Convention. The gray area seems to lie in how each flag state will interpret the Convention and apply it to superyachts.

Some of the problems seem to stem from the definitions and interpretations of certain words used in the MLC. To begin, the definition of the term “seafarer” may be up for interpretation. According to the Convention, a seafarer is “any person who is employed or engaged or works in any capacity on board a ship to which this Convention applies.”

The Convention applies to all “ships, whether publicly or privately owned, ordinarily engaged in commercial activities ….” There seems to be no consensus yet on what the meaning of “ordinarily engaged in commercial activity” is, leaving room for debate when it comes to chartering.

According to Ives, two flag states currently have two different interpretations of the MLC and how it will be applied to superyachts. Although Ives did not name either flag state, one, he reports, may not include the superyacht sector in the scope of the MLC. The second, he says, may include only yachts 24 meters or larger in its definition.

“It’s very, very unfortunate if flag states view it differently, for after all, aren’t they [the crew on board] all seafarers?” Ives said.

It’s clear that there is a way to go to iron out the snags in the implementation and what it means exactly to the yachting industry. Ives believes that it may fall to each flag state to inspect its own yachts, but that does leave room for fragmentation.

At the time, Lloyd’s reported that current projections have the MLC 2006 on track for ratification in 2011, although it probably will be sooner. Ratification requires 30 member countries, representing 33 percent of the total world gross tonnage, to sign the Convention. Five countries, including Liberia, the Marshall Islands, The Bahamas, Panama and Norway, have already ratified the convention, with several others informally expressing intent to do so by 2010.

“Get your house in order before it’s too late,” Ives said.

For more on the MLC, see the article in the April 2009 issue of Dockwalk, which can be viewed through Digital Dockwalk.






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4 Comments
  • "Working hours don't seem to be a problem with yachts??? I think 12-18 hours a day is a problem . . . . along with the expectation of being bright eyed and bushy tailed the next day to do it all over again for days, week(s) at at time is definitely a problem!
    Posted by Lori_2 18/07/2009 17:27:41

  • I realize that MLC covers move than rest hours. In my reading of the provisions, and I am not a lawyer, once the vessel is MLC compliant in any signatory state it will be allowed movement without fear of prosecution.
    I also quite regularly speak with a new build project manager in the Netherlands. He is confident that design regulations and the special needs of yachts, will be addressed in the final MLC draft. His question seems to be. What is a yacht ? or more important, when does a yacht become a ship ? Good question. He also observes a trend in the industry in which yachts will be operated by a smaller crew. This trend is owner driven not MLC driven .
    As far as MLC becoming another Jones Act, this can be positive. The Jones Act was conceived in good faith during a previous phase of maritime evolution. The Jones Act disregarded international law and gave American seaman the legal right to directly challenge shipowners.
    You may argue that the Jones act hastened the decline in US shipbuilding but then again General Motors didn't face the Jones act and they cant build cars.
    And overall regulatory standard for the protection of crew is a good development. I'm confident that some countries will demand a higher level of social protection than others. These exceptions to social rules are already well established in the European Union and seem to provide good overall representation of labour.
    Posted by monback 30/03/2009 18:50:09

  • The MLC covers a lot more than miniumum rest requirements. And the fact that indivdual flag states have leeway in interpretation is a BAD thing, because unless the yacht has an inspection certificate, each individual flag state can decide if you are in compliance. You might be fine in the Bahamas, and then get over to the Med and find out that you don't comply there. The MLC has been likened to an International version of the Jones Act, it is very convaluted and leaves vessel owners volnerable to frivolous law suits and vessel arrest. There is a very good reason so many industry experts are concered about it and trying to lobby for changes. If it is ratified and goes into effect without changes or exemptions for yachts it will have a huge affect.
    Posted by AScott 30/03/2009 15:56:21

  • Many of the MLC recomendations are common sense and should not have a great affect on yachts. If I read the rules correctly, present yachts are grandfathered and loopholes seem to be available for yacht design by indiviual member states.

    " except if impracticable due to size, type or nature of intended service."
    "Competent authority may relax this for ships in coastal trade."
    "Member State may exempt ships under 200gt"

    If you read the rules you will see that they are designed to protect commercial seaman from abuse.

    Working hours dont seem to be a problem with yachts.

    "Minimum rest periods to be 10 in any 24, not less than 77 in 7 days.
    If the hours of rest are in 2 periods, one such period must be of 6 hours minimum, and the interval to the next period not to exceed 14 hours."
    Posted by monback 29/03/2009 10:55:56

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