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Questions & Answers

Questions and answers on Tripartite Expert Meetings on Flag State and Port State inspection guidelines under the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006

More than 300 senior representatives of seafarers and shipowners, along with governments, are to meet in Geneva between 15 and 26 September to discuss guidelines on flag-state and port-state inspection on board of ships under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2006. Below are questions and answers on the importance of the meeting, and how it relates to the Maritime Convention.

Article | 15 September 2008

What is the importance of the two tripartite meetings on guidelines for flag State and port state inspections under the MLC, 2006?

The MLC, 2006 sets out seafarers’ rights to decent conditions of work and helps to create conditions of fair competition for ship-owners, but it does not specify how ship inspections should be carried out. The first meeting will adopt guidelines on flag State inspections; the second one will develop guidelines for port State control officers carrying out inspections. Once the MLC, 2006, comes into force, countries could adapt these guidelines to their national situations for use by flag state and port state inspectors to make sure a ship to which the Convention applies actually complies with it. Guidance in this area and consistency in practice is particularly necessary because of the possibility, under the MLC, 2006, that a ship could be detained in port for a serious or repeated breach of the requirements of the Convention (including seafarers’ rights).

What are the main differences between a flag State and a port State inspection?

The MLC, 2006, requires States to carry out effective inspections on all ships flying their flag to ensure compliance with its requirements. They must also issue a certificate to those ships confirming compliance if they are 500 gross tonnage or above and are engaged in international voyages, or if they request certification. A “declaration of maritime labour compliance”, which must be attached to the certificate, will indicate how the shipowner plans to ensure compliance in-between inspections. The guidelines are expected to address such matters as the precise requirements to be checked for compliance, what kind of evidence will be needed by the inspector to certify compliance in the different areas to be inspected, and what kind of action should be considered in the case of non-compliance.

What about port State inspections?

Port-State inspections are carried out on foreign ships visiting a port of the country concerned. These inspections are designed not only to reinforce or complement the flag-State inspections but also to protect shipowners that are committed to providing their seafarers with decent working and living conditions conforming to the standards of the MLC, 2006. They help to provide those shipowners with protection against unfair competition from substandard ships that may use the flags of countries that either have not ratified the MLC, 2006, or at least appear to have lower standards of implementation and enforcement of MLC requirements.

The MLC, 2006 allows such inspections to be carried out on all foreign ships visiting its ports, even ships from countries that have not ratified the MLC, 2006. However, if a ship flies the flag of a country that has ratified the Convention and produces proper certification issued by the flag State, the port State must accept these documents as evidence of compliance, except in specified circumstances such as where an inspector has clear grounds for believing that a ship is non-compliant or receives a complaint by a seafarer.

So, is it fair to say that a flag State and a port State inspection will look at the same issues but from a different angle?

Yes. For this reason, the guidelines to be developed concerning port-State inspection are expected to cover some of the same matters as the flag-State guidelines, but from a port-State point of view. They should also deal with such matters as the port-State inspectors’ treatment of the flag-State certifications of compliance (including when there might be “clear grounds for believing” that a ship is non-compliant despite the flag-State certification). Similar considerations will apply when an inspector (whether from the flag State or a port State) is deciding upon the kind of action to be taken in the case of non-compliance. However, while a flag State inspection will cover all the requirements of the Convention relating to working and living conditions of seafarers, a port State inspection will, in principle, be limited to 14 areas of those conditions which are specified in the Convention, unless a complaint is received alleging non-compliance by the ship in other areas.

What’s next following these meetings?

The ILO, together with its constituents, will continue to work on its five-year Action Plan to achieve rapid and widespread ratification and effective implementation of the MLC, 2006. The MLC will come into force 12 months after ratification by at least 30 ILO member States with a total share of at least 33 percent of the world’s gross tonnage of ships. The Action Plan adopted specific targets and a strategy to achieve entry into force by 2011. So far all targets have been met and many other initiatives implementing the MLC, 2006 in the industry are under way.