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Interpretation a part of repatriation: How do I get home?

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“All the world’s a stage; and all the men and women merely players.” Shakespeare’s famous quote certainly describes yacht crew. They comprise an internationally diverse group of characters. On any given day, on any dock, one can hear accents from nearly every corner of the world.

With so many international players, one’s home of residence can be far from where the yacht takes them. When it comes time for a contract to end or that hard-earned vacation time to be used, what is a crew member to do?

Depending on the residency of the person involved, an owner may be obligated to provide repatriation.

Repatriation is the process of returning a person to their place of origin or citizenship. In the maritime industry, this involves the transportation of a seafarer from the vessel’s location to their home country. In yachting, that return can be to any number of locations.

Under the requirements of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), those yachts that are normally engaged in trade (i.e., commercial yachts) must have a Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA) with each member of the crew. Within the SEA, the level of repatriation entitled to the seafarer must be documented.

In Regulation 2.5 of the MLC, repatriation is discussed at length. However, as with any international regulation, there is a certain amount of interpretation left to the parties involved.  Here are some of the most common questions being asked by yacht owners, captains and crew.

What is the entitlement to repatriation?

MLC provides for the basic right of seafarers to repatriation. The basic parameters for repatriation, including the period before an entitlement arises, must be “less than 12 months.” However, the specific entitlements are a matter for Flag State implementation through provisions in its national laws and regulations.  

Can a crew member be charged for repatriation?

MLC prohibits owners from requiring that seafarers make an advance payment toward the cost of repatriation at the beginning of their employment. It also prohibits recovering the cost of repatriation from the seafarer’s wages or other entitlements, except where the seafarer has been found, in accordance with national laws or regulations, to be in serious default of the seafarer’s employment obligations.

Can a crew member decide not to exercise a right to be repatriated?

MLC requires each Flag State to prescribe, through its national laws and regulations, a number of matters. This includes “the maximum duration of service periods on board following which a seafarer is entitled to repatriation – such periods to be less than 12 months.” Unless a Flag State law prohibits it, a seafarer could choose not to exercise this entitlement when it arises.

Can a crew member agree to be paid instead of actually taking paid annual leave?

MLC states that any agreement to forgo the minimum annual leave with pay must be prohibited.  In yachting, there are instances where this can be considered with agreement by the Flag State.  It is mostly seen where yachts that have extended schedules at the dock or a “weekends off” routine.

Does the requirement for paid annual leave mean that crew cannot be on board for more than 11 months at a time?

Yes. The concept of paid annual leave is assumed to be an uninterrupted period that is taken annually. Therefore, the maximum period for service on board a yacht without leave would be 11 months.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB). Contact him on www.yachtbureau.org.

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