MLC Amendments to Protect Seafarers

Apr 28, 2014

by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights

In my capacity as Chairman of the International Christian Maritime Association’s (ICMA) Standing Delegation to the International Labour Organization (ILO), I attended the first meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee at the ILO in Geneva. Ken Peters from the Mission to Seafarers in London and Domingo Gonzales from the Apostleship of the Sea in Madrid joined me on the ICMA Standing Delegation. More than 300 representatives of shipowners, seafaring unions and governments from more than 75 countries participated in the meeting.

The Special Tripartite Committee, designed to keep the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) under continuous review, considered two amendments to the Convention relating to abandonment and seafarers’ claims for death and long-term disability. While the MLC, 2006 remains the greatest achievement in seafarers’ rights law in our time, it lacked sufficient protections for seafarers when their employers disappeared or went bankrupt. The Committee adopted two amendments designed to fix these problems by requiring shipowners to have financial security to cover abandonment, seafarers’ death and long-term disability entitlements.

The amendments were a long time coming. In 1998, the Center for Seafarers’ Rights convened a roundtable to recommend measures that would protect seafarers from issues surrounding abandonment, including requiring shipowners to maintain sufficient financial responsibility for their obligations to crew. Also in 1998, the ILO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) established a Joint Working Group on Liability and Compensation Regarding Claims for Death, Personal Injury and Abandonment of Seafarers. The Working Group relied on SCI’s roundtable report as a starting point for its deliberations on abandonment. Although the Joint IMO/ILO group produced guidelines on responding to abandoned seafarers in 2001, establishing acceptable mandatory measures proved elusive. The breakthrough came in 2008 when the United States, led by then-US Coast Guard Captain Chuck Michel (now an admiral), prepared a blueprint for mandatory requirements. Through Michel’s leadership, the Joint Working Group agreed in 2009 to the MLC, 2006 amendments presented to the Special Tripartite Committee. The Special Tripartite Committee adopted the amendments with few changes from those agreed to in 2009.

The Special Tripartite Committee meeting also gave me opportunity to deliver Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry’s Silver Bell Award, which SCI conferred at a 2013 ceremony in New York. Because of her ILO commitments, Dr. Doumbia-Henry could not attend the Dinner in her honor. I presented the award to her in front of the entire Special Tripartite Committee—men and women who truly understand and appreciate the accomplishments for which SCI celebrated her.