F R Chowdhury
25th June every year is now being celebrated as a day of Seafarers. International sea borne trade has a tremendous contribution in the development of trade, commerce, agriculture, industry, tourism, education, culture, science and technology. As a matter of fact this world would not have been what it is today without shipping. Seafarers remain away from near and dear ones to serve at sea and keep the wheel of shipping turning. As a community the seafarers need to be remembered for their contributions.
As it happens in every business, many owners try to deprive employees of their legitimate rights. It was more so in case of shipping because the seafarers mostly remain outside the national jurisdiction. It started changing gradually ever since the creation of ILO (International Labour Organisation) in 1919. From time to time ILO came with international standards for ship-board living conditions, hours of work, mandatory employment agreements, minimum wages, health and hygiene for seafarers. Then in 1958 IMO (International Maritime Organisation) came into being. Though primarily devoted to safety and prevention of pollution but by way of periodical inspections it ensured that seafarers live and work on safer ships. ILO-147 (Minimum Standards Convention) directly refers to such matters. The two UN agencies have been working together for better ships, shipping and seafarers.
Year 2006 was a milestone in the history of ILO. The world community adopted MLC-2006 (Maritime Labour Convention-2006). The Convention put together essential components of all maritime conventions and recommendation so far adopted through ILO. In a way it made a comprehensive document of all fragmented parts and made it more practical for its implementation. It is hoped that in the usual spirit of cooperation IMO shall encourage the regional MOU and agreements to include MLC-2006 in its PSC (Port State Control) inspections. The compliance of IMO and ILO Conventions shall ensure that safer ships operate around the world with due regard to the environment and seafarers can work with respect and dignity. This will have ultimate success only when there is full understanding and cooperation at respective national level between the sectors of the administration looking after maritime and seafarers matters.
On this day of the seafarers, I call up on all Member States to kindly protect and promote the rights and privileges of the seafarers, a community that does so much good to the human society. Please do not deprive them of shore leave on the plea of the security. Shore leave is so vital for the wellbeing of the seafarers. Please also develop recreational facilities near to your seaports for the seafarers from home and abroad. Such facilities, if made accessible to other tourists may even prove profitable. National tourism organisation may come forward if encouraged by ministry of shipping and ministry of labour. I also call up on all unions and associations to arrange for meetings and seminars in your respective countries and bring all parties together to turn into reality such projects. It will enhance national pride and image apart from providing the seafarers with much need recreational facilities.
Finally, I come to the title of this article. There is a need to look beyond MLC-2006. Despite all these developments there are still unscrupulous ship-owners who leave seafarers stranded. Even ships are sometime abandoned with huge backlog of the wages of the seafarers. They do so when the insurance has run out and their liabilities are well in excess of the value of the ship which is only good for scrap. These can be seen in countries where there is either no maritime law or they are still very primitive to provide any protection against such activities. Most of these countries have no standard procedure for Port State inspections to keep these sub-standard ships out of their waters. If we do not plug these loopholes, we cannot derive the benefit of MLC-2006.
IMO and ILO must stress upon the Member States to modernise their legislation by transposing essential ingredients of international conventions to bring them at par with others. The law must clearly state that seafarers shall have a lien against the ship for their wages and other claims. There must be appropriate legal measures to arrest a ship to recover liens and claims. Port State inspections must ensure that sub-standard ships cannot trade freely. They must also ensure that the ship has enough insurance cover to meet its obligations including removal of wrecks and payment for environmental damage. These actions will ensure that seafarers are not stranded abroad without their wages, food and water. Once the MLC-2006 comes into operation, it must be amended to include a new clause: “Member States shall ensure appropriate legal and administrative procedures are in place for seafarers to take action for recovery of their wages and repatriation back home”.
I conclude this article by paying my personal tribute to all seafarers – past and present who through their dedicated services contribute to the world peace and development. It is because of their service that we enjoy today’s life style.
[The write is a former Director General of Shipping, Bangladesh. He is also an Ex- Deputy Chief Examiner of UK-MCA, Maritime Administrator of Gibraltar and Maritime Adviser to GOP, Kingdom of Bahrain.]