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MLC 2006: The wait is over

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After 12 years of development and seven and a half years since being adopted, the International Labour Organization (ILO) went into effect on Aug. 20.



The Convention, more commonly referred to as MLC 2006, became binding in international law and establishes minimum working and living standards for all seafarers. More in the merchant shipping side, but also affecting the yachting industry, MLC will also be an essential step toward ensuring fair competition and a level playing field for quality owners flying the flags of ratifying countries.



The MLC 2006 was adopted by government, employer and worker representatives at a special ILO International Labour Conference in February 2006 to provide international standards for the world’s first genuinely global industry. Widely known as the “seafarers’ bill of rights,” MLC is unique in its purpose for both seafarers and vessel owners.



Now that MLC is officially in place internationally, what happens next? Depending upon the flag state of your yacht, there will be specific requirements for inspection and subsequent certification.



On the port state control front, yachts can expect to see the initial round of inspections starting in Europe. The Paris MOU on port state control has included the MLC 2006 as a relevant instrument for its member states. This action makes the MLC requirements officially subject to port state control, including the possibility for more detailed inspections, expanded inspections, and the possibility of detention in serious cases of noncompliance or where hazardous conditions exist.



The Paris MOU reiterated the official stance that MLC applies to all vessels engaged in commercial activities. This means commercially registered yachts. International certification is required for all ships and yachts of 500 GT and above making international voyages. For ships and yachts below 500 GT, there is no requirement for international certification, but the vessel must be able to demonstrate compliance.



In an expected move to facilitate logistical problems with inspections, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted a resolution requesting port states to allow ships and yachts to continue to operate without the required statutory documents of a Maritime Labour Certificate and Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance during a period of one year after Aug. 20, 2013.  The ILO invited member states to take a pragmatic approach in this respect during the first year of implementation.



New guidelines for port state control officers have been agreed to implement the practical issues of the new convention in the inspection regime. However, this will be done on a case-by-case basis. A ship or yacht must still be able to demonstrate full compliance with MLC, absent these certificates.



The Paris MOU also clarified that port state control inspections will only be conducted in those member states that have ratified the MLC on or before Aug. 20, 2012. Based upon this policy, the following 12 countries will start to enforce the MLC. They are Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, Spain, and Sweden.



Members of the Paris MOU who ratified the MLC after Aug. 20, 2012, will be entitled to conduct Port state control inspections 12 months after the date of that member’s ratification.



This means that for countries such as France, Malta and the United Kingdom, there will be no inspections in their ports until Feb. 28, 2014, Jan. 22, 2014, and Aug. 7, 2014, respectively.



A major yachting flag that has yet to ratify the MLC is the United State of America. What happens to a vessel registered under the Stars and Stripes? Similar to other international conventions that the USA has not signed, but must still demonstrate compliance, a Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) was issued. This document outlines which vessels must comply, how to comply, and by when.



Until such time that the United States ratifies the MLC, the U.S. Coast Guard cannot mandate enforcement of the MLC requirements on U.S. flagged vessels or require foreign-flagged vessels to comply while operating on the navigable waters of the United States.



However, Article V, Paragraph 7 of the MLC contains a “no more favorable treatment clause” that requires ratifying governments to impose convention requirements on all vessels, even those from a non-ratifying government, when calling on their ports. As a result, U.S. vessels that cannot demonstrate compliance with the MLC may be at risk for Port State Control actions, including detention, when operating in the port of a ratifying nation.



Let us put this “no more favorable treatment” clause into a realistic scenario. A U.S.-flagged yacht is in the Bahamas. The Bahamas are a signatory nation to MLC, which means it can impose MLC on all vessels, regardless of flag, in its waters.



That U.S.-flagged yacht is chartering, thus engaged in trade. Bahamian port state control is authorized to conduct an inspection of the yacht to ensure compliance with MLC. Because the U.S. has not signed MLC, Bahamas port state control will conduct a full inspection. If the yacht cannot demonstrate compliance, then it can be detained. This can mean charter delays and/or cancellations.



This scenario can be applied to the same yacht if she operates in any country that has ratified the Convention. This includes other popular destinations such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Canada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin (France), St. Maarten (Netherlands), and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Regardless of your yacht’s flag, if she is engaged in commercial trade (i.e. charters), you are past due. Please take immediate action to ensure compliance with the Maritime Labour Convention and avoid any problems for your owner.



Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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