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Maritime Law--MLC Detentions Continue: Are You Ready?

As I have been blogging for the last year, the Maritime Labor Convention ("MLC") came into force internationally on August 20, 2013. Within two weeks, the first vessels were detained for non-compliance.
On September 3rd during a port state inspection of the Liberia-flagged offshore supply vessel ATLANTIC CARRIER, the Danish Maritime Authority observed that the crew had employment contracts that were not MLC compliant. The vessel was detained for 24 hours while the issues were corrected and she was then permitted to leave port and continue her operations in the North Sea.
ATLANTIC CARRIER: picture provided courtesy of Maritime Executive magazine
Around the same time period, LIA M was detained in Canada. The crew complaints included unpaid wages; a collective bargaining agreement that failed to list the vessel's name, a date or a wage scale; crew with no money, no shampoo, toothpaste or other items; a crew member who had twice been refused access to a doctor; and crew members having been forced to sign blank employment contracts.
However, the requirement that each crew member has a valid employment contract is only one aspect of seafarers' rights under the MLC. Shipowners are also required to implement measures relating to seafarer wages and hours of work, accommodation, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection. In addition, a shipowner has to ensure that the ship carries an on-board complaints procedure. This must enable seafarers to raise issues about MLC compliance without retaliation. If the seafarer's complaint is not satisfactorily dealt with, he may bring it to the attention of the next port state control inspector, who in turn has the power to detain the ship.
About a month later, the Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier KOUYOU was detained in the port of Quebec, Canada, after maritime labor officials determined that crew were owed more than $51,000 in back pay. This was the third detention in Canada of a vessel under the MLC. This discovery was reported by the Maritime Executive to have been made by an inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and Unifor union. What was more surprising is that it was discovered that the involved crew had paid a total of $6,600 in fees to obtain their jobs. Recruitment or placement fees paid to manning agents are illegal under the MLC.

Although August 20th was the landmark date on which the MLC entered into force internationally, there is an important point to note. Ratifying states have 12 months from the date of ratification to enact the MLC into their domestic law and commence enforcement via flag and port state control. Therefore in principle, one would expect to see a phased introduction of the MLC by different flag states around the world over the coming months. Thus, shipowners whose vessels fly the flag of a state that has recently ratified might be tempted to think that they have time before their vessels need to be MLC compliant.

However, the "no more favorable treatment" provisions of the MLC I have been stressing again and again need to be remembered. In effect, these provisions require ports of states where the MLC has already entered into force to inspect all vessels for compliance, regardless of the flag they fly. This means that shipowners' interests may be best served if they take steps to ensure their vessels are MLC compliant now.

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