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Personal Injury Update

Published September 2014

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006: one year on and is the pressure building for PSC?

Current ratifications to the Convention by Member States: 64 countries List of country ratifications

The MLC 2006 has been in force for just over a year now, since August 2013. The International Labour Organisation ("ILO") is celebrating the Convention's anniversary and noting improving conditions for seafarers. It came into force in the UK on 7 August 2014.

In our March Update (click here to view) we reported on some of the international detentions that had taken place as a result of non-compliance with the MLC. Many were as a result of seafarers' complaints about their living conditions and unpaid wages. Bodies such as the International Transport Workers' Federation ("ITF") then followed these up with Port State Control ("PSC").

Apart from the inspections on vessels where irresponsible owners were failing to provide good working and living standards for their crews, there was also concern amongst responsible owners that inspections/detentions were taking place when, previously, the vessel would not have been inspected by PSC. Vessels were detained for allegations of non-compliant wage payments where owners confirmed that collective bargaining agreements were in place and discussions had taken place with the ITF in this respect (e.g. Canada's detention of "LIA M" and "HYDRA WARRIOR").

So, are things settling down a year on? It is clear that failings by some owners to address seafarers' welfare no longer go unnoticed. It is beneficial for the whole industry that those whose standards are inadequate should face consequences in line with the Convention. We discussed the example in March of the extensive cargo hold rusting and shattered deck railings found on Panamanian flagged "DONALD DUCKLING" which was in Tyneside for months, before being recently sold. She was abandoned by her owners and crew's wages were unpaid.

The ILO advocated a "pragmatic" approach to enforcement of the MLC by PSC from the start of this process. However, we note from reports of the circumstances of some detentions that this may not be happening in practice. We thought it might be of interest to hear about the other side of an incident in a recent, high-profile case where owners have been heavily criticised by a PSC.

Some of you may have read about the three month ban of container vessel "VEGA AURIGA" by the Australia Maritime Safety Authority ("AMSA") last month. Its German owners, Vega-Reederei GmbH & Co. KG ("Vega") faced criticism in the press release dated 27 August 2014 (click here to view) which referred to "repeated concerns for welfare of the crew including, improper payment of wages, inadequate living and working conditions and inadequate maintenance resulting in an unseaworthy and substandard vessel".

Having left Australia, a subsequent PSC inspection of the vessel in New Zealand was preceded by the local MP in Tauranga referring to the Australian ban and then comparing the situation with the RENA casualty. He spoke of the repeated detentions in that case too, adding "and we have seen the results of that" (Tradewinds 5/9/14). Owners consider this comparison extremely unfair and have provided us with their comments. We thought our readers may be interested in what the management of Vega have to say below:

As a family company, Vega do not underestimate the importance of the MLC, nor how it can improve the lives of seafarers. All their crew (100% Filipino), regardless of rank, have the right and the opportunity to raise concerns at any time to owners or to the flag state. This was in place before the implementation of the MLC.

They highlight a close relationship with crewmembers and note repeatedly that they have gone beyond the other requirements of the MLC, not just adhering to minimum standards. This is why the actions of AMSA and comments in New Zealand have been so keenly felt.

In terms of the incident, the vessel was subject to an initial inspection, a normal feature of trading in Australian ports. PSC raised valid defects which were rectified. Vega takes no issue with this. However, a second inspection seemed to be a fault-finding mission. Cosmetic 'defects' were seized on which do not usually justify detention (e.g. bottled water not kept in a separate room and coaming on fridges which needed to be replaced).

Subsequent discussions with their class and flag state concluded that none justified a detention of the vessel, nor did they affect its seaworthiness at any time. They consider that AMSA's actions had little to do with the enforcement of the MLC to protect seafarers' rights.

Vega does not dispute any of the defects found on board, but they dispute the significance attached by AMSA to those defects. Following the inspections, they offered transparency to AMSA regarding any backlogs (which many owners faced recently in difficult financial years) but offers to discuss the defects further were "simply ignored".

As some of you will have read in the Tradewinds article noted above, AMSA also criticised the way the crew were paid. Vega disagrees, noting that they pay higher than minimum wages. In addition, they involve the crew, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration ("POEA") and ITF in any discussions regarding wage arrangements.

They have received no complaints from their crew regarding any of the deficiencies raised by AMSA, nor has the flag state (Liberia). Neither has their crew management company in Manila established in 2006 solely for recruiting crew for Vega.

It was anticipated that implementation of the MLC during the first few years could lead to controversy. However, the case above demonstrates that even in high-profile cases, there are often two sides to an incident.

We will continue to follow how the MLC is being implemented in the future and report in further updates.

If you would like to read Vega's full statement please click here.


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