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Is the Industry Asleep to the MLC?

Good news is that clients have been recently seeking more guidance on the Maritime Labor (or Labour for our English friends) Convention 2006 ("MLC"). It would appear that my continued ramblings on the MLC, which comes into effect on August 20, 2013, has garnered some mild attention.

The MLC consolidates most existing International Labor Organization maritime conventions into one document. It sets minimum standards for conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreation, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection. Some 35 flag states, covering more than 70% of the world fleet, have ratified the convention to date. They include major flags such as the Marshall Islands and Panama, and maritime nations Australia, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Singapore and Spain. MLC member nations issue maritime labor certificates to vessels under their flag, which are prima facie evidence of the vessel compliance with the convention.

The big problem is that the US has not ratified MLC 2006. The US Coast Guard ("USCG") has urged voluntary self-compliance, but my fear is that US-flag owners are asleep to the looming problem. Despite the US having one of the world’s most robust seafarer protection regimes and strong maritime unions, US-flag ships risk being inspected from bow to stern in foreign harbors and even detained, because of its failure to ratify the convention.

What makes these certificates crucial is that Port State Control ("PSC") inspectors in foreign ports normally do not look beyond them for evidence of compliance. Ships from non-member nations will not have this convenience. Recognizing the possibility of US ships being harassed or detained overseas for failure to have the compliance certificates, the USCG issued a draft Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular, providing guidance on how US-flag vessels can prepare for the post-MLC 2006 era. The USCG intends to implement a voluntary inspection programme for such vessels before the enactment date, so US-flag vessels may document compliance. To this end, the USCG has authorized a select group of classification societies to conduct compliance inspections on ships and to issue Statements of Voluntary Compliance ("SOVC") on behalf of the USCG.

Ships are encouraged to post these SOVCs in a conspicuous place on board, easily visible to the crew and to inspectors, to serve as de facto MLC certificates in foreign ports. However, this has sparked a bit of a debate. On the one hand, it is believed that most foreign PSC regimes would not differentiate between a US-flag ship with an SOVC and a ship with a certificate from a signatory nation and would be likelier to target ships that have no certificate at all. So, the view is that the SOVC system would be a good one. On the other hand, the MLC requires ratifying governments to impose MLC requirements even on vessels from a non-ratifying government when calling on their ports. This clause may make foreign PSC inspectors feel almost duty-bound to inspect US-flag ships vigorously, since they do not have the necessary MLC certificate on board.

This is food for thought. The post-MLC world is a big unknown. Clients are learning that some flag states are requiring compliance certificates for vessels that fly their flag, regardless of tonnage, if they are utilized commercially and internationally. So those in the yacht sector, wake up! No matter what flag their vessel flies, no owner today can guess precisely what kind of enforcement to expect with MLC. This is why it is important to become educated and be prepared for this new, forth pillar of shipping. 

If you are interested in receiving a copy of the MLC, need more information on the countries that have ratified the MLC or wish to reach me, you may do so by writing to me at


  1. Nice and very informative. I am studying this problem and I must say that your article has helped me a lot. Ernst Ashurov lawyer


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