Unions Say MLC Is Making A Real Difference

October 02, 2014
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This article first appeared in the October edition of the Telegraph & is published here with the kind permission of Nautilus International (an ISWAN member)

Unions welcome evidence that inspections are starting to combat ships flouting 'bill of rights'

The introduction of the Maritime Labour Convention is making a big difference for seafarers around the world, unions say. They have welcomed evidence that the port state control inspectors are now clamping down on ships contravening the requirements of the seafarers' bill of rights.

One year after the MLC entered into force, Nautilus said it is pleased to see an increasing number of ships now being detained for breaching the rules — and, in a case last month, being banned from one country's ports.

The Liberian-flagged containership Vega Auriga was barred from entering Australian ports for three months on a 'three strikes and you're out' policy. The ship had been detained on three occasions since last July by the Australian Maritime Safety Agency for deficiencies related to the payment of crew wages, inadequate living and working conditions, and poor maintenance. It was subsequently detained again upon arrival in New Zealand.

And last month a Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier was detained in the port of Southampton with deficiencies including invalid seafarer employment agreements, as required by the MLC.

The Turkish-owned El Condor Pas was also found to be under-manned and to be operating with no lookout at night, with a serious breakdown of International Safety Management Code implementation onboard.

The 33,476dwt vessel had fallen foul of the current three-month concentrated port state control inspection campaign on hours of rest. Checks to verify the crew members onboard revealed that the third officer was recorded as an AB on the crew list.

However, the officer was not undertaking AB duties — and was instead standing the 8-12 and 20-24 watches, even though the ship's records showed that the master was standing this watch.

Checks also found that a cadet was listed as an OS on the crew list, and no other OSs were onboard — with the vessel under-manned by one AB and two OSs. And the seafarer employment agreements were found to be invalid, as they had expired almost three weeks before the inspection. El Condor Pas was cleared to sail three days after the detention when a further inspection showed that the deficiencies had been rectified.

Nautilus International Council chairman Ulrich Jurgens, the port state control officer who detained the 13-year-old ship, said he said he and his colleagues had found a total of 14 deficiencies onboard and shortcomings including damage to an access ladder and the radio aerial, corrosion of the crane limit switch — plus, very importantly, the inability of the crew to carry out a satisfactory fire drill.

'As a PSC inspector I have to work according to the rule of law,' he pointed out. 'My role is to ensure that visiting vessels comply with statutory provisions. The focus of the inspection is to ensure the ship is safe.

'Identifying defects or even detaining a vessel also ensures that shipowners operate on a level playing field and that compliant owners do not suffer a business disadvantage to the less compliant ones,' he added. 'The latter, however, also benefit as inspections help them to bring their vessel up to internationally recognised standards.'

El Condor Pas was not a wreck, Mr Jurgens stressed. 'She just had operational deficiencies which made the vessel unsafe and basically unseaworthy. A missing lifeboat or a hole in the hull are obvious deficiencies. However, there are others which are less visible but equally important.

'In this case, the key issues were: the lack of compliance with SOLAS on safety management issues; the lack of compliance with STCW on manning and watchkeeping matters and, last but not least, a further lack of compliance with MLC on hours of rest and terms and conditions,' he explained. 'These present both safety, social and economic risks and disadvantages to seafarers, shipowners and the public.'

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson commented: 'It is very reassuring to see the MLC starting to bite and ships being stopped because of crew-related deficiencies.

'Owners who compete on the back of exploitation not only present unfair competition, but also unsafe competition and we hope that cases such as this will send a strong message to the industry that this is no longer tolerated.'

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