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MLC, 2006

Ship inspections for seafarers’ protection: The Maritime Labour Convention at work

Ship inspections are critical for ensuring compliance with the Maritime Labour Convention, and as such, decent living and working conditions for seafarers. Rear Admiral Luigi Giardino of the Italian Coast Guard explains how such inspections are conducted and what their consequences can be.

Press release | 03 May 2019
As part of its 100th anniversary celebrations, the ILO has invited all countries to support efforts to ensure decent work for the world’s 1.5 million seafarers. The Maritime Centenary Challenge aims to reach 100 ratifications of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006) this year.

At present there are 93 ratifications of this “bill of rights” for seafarers.

Countries that ratified the MLC, 2006 have to ensure that ships flying their flags comply with the Convention’s requirements. They also have a right to inspect all ships entering their ports for compliance with the Convention and following the receipt of complaints.

The MLC was a game changer when it entered into force. No one could predict how much it has turned the tide for the men and women working at sea to advance social justice and decent minimum labour standards for all seafarers. In the ILO’s centenary year, we call on the States yet to ratify the Convention to help secure a better conditions and a safer working environment for the world’s seafarers."

David Heindel, Spokesperson, Seafarer group of the MLC 2006 Special Tripartite Committee
Rear Admiral Luigi Giardino of the Italian Coast Guard talked to ILO News about the inspections.

ILO News: When do you inspect a ship?

The decision to inspect a ship entering Italian ports is based on the ship’s risk profile, indications of a serious threat to the safety of the ship, or the existence of a complaint.

ILO News: About how many ships do you inspect each year?

In 2018 Italy carried out 1,362 inspections of ships that called at its ports and anchorages.

ILO News: What are the most serious problems and what immediate measures are taken?

Serious problems would include a lack of evidence that seafarers are trained and certified as competent, or qualified to perform their duties. Or, finding persons under the age of 16 working on board. In such cases the ship is detained until these issues are corrected.

The MLC is something that shipowners, social partners and Governments can be truly proud of. It is unique amongst global industries setting out decent standards to protect our valued seafarers. With 93 ratifications so far it would be truly something if we can achieve over 100 ratifications in the ILO’s special anniversary year."

Guy Platten, Secretary-General, International Chamber of Shipping
ILO News: In which areas do you find the most problems?

We primarily see issues with the maintenance of sanitary facilities; ropes and wires in bad condition; missing protection for machines’ rotating parts; electrical problems; and missing personal protective equipment – or if this equipment is available, it might not be used or worn by the crew during the normal operation of the ship. Those are the top five issues we see in 27 countries in Europe, plus Russia and Canada.

But we can observe a whole range of other deficiencies. There might not be enough food. Or it might not be stored at a cold enough temperature. Sometimes there are problems with heating, air conditioning or ventilation. Cleanliness, including of the engine room, sleeping quarters, toilets or galley (kitchen) is also a problem. We might also find that the wages of the crew are not being paid.

ILO News: One big issue that can lead to accidents is seafarers’ fatigue. How do you detect that?

We look at objective evidence to see if the Maritime Labour Convention is enforced. We compare work and rest time records with the ship’s log book and drills record, for example. We also interview the crew, especially the lower ranks. We might notice the inability to stay awake, slow responses and difficulty in concentrating.

ILO News: What about the state of the ship? If it’s not in good shape, do you report this?

Structural deficiencies, such as corrosion, loss of function of equipment or a system due to careless use, cracking and buckling, could affect crew safety, so we report these and assign a time limit to correct the deficiencies.

ILO News: What happens if the requirements of the Convention are not met? Are there sanctions?

As mentioned, serious deficiencies are cause to detain the ship. Flag state officers can also withdraw certification or apply sanctions according to national law.

ILO News: Have you seen increased compliance with the Maritime Labour Convention over time?

Yes, we observe fewer deficiencies. I think the maritime industry realizes that ratification benefits seafarers, ship-owners, flag states, port states and labour-supplying states. It is in the economic interest of the shipowner not to have any deficiencies, or to quickly and effectively correct them when they arise. Detention of a ship for even a few hours has high costs, and is a black mark on the flag’s performance record.