The Bahamas Shipowners Association

A winning approach to seafarers’ welfare

Friday 14 January 2011

YOU do not have to be a seafarer for very long to appreciate the work done by the various welfare organisations devoted to offering a helping hand in a foreign port. You certainly notice it when these kindly people are absent, in some God-awful place where local officialdom is hostile, where there is a suspicion of foreign seafarers that borders on the paranoid, either with shore-leave bans, or a wide and imaginative variety of institutionalised nastiness.

By contrast, the appearance of a friendly and helpful ship visitor is always welcome and a port where there is a seafarers’ centre, or a welfare organisation, is a veritable oasis in what is often a maritime desert. But like all of such organisations, no matter how valuable the task they do, there is a risk that they are taken for granted, both by the industry, and perhaps seafarers themselves in an attitude which sort of assumes that when there is a problem involving seafarers, there will be some friendly chaplain or welfare worker who will leap into action, or sort it out.

So it was rather nice last month to attend an event where the work done by some of these welfare organisations and individuals around the world was recognised. This was the very first International Seafarers’ Welfare Awards, organised by the International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare and kindly hosted by the International Maritime Organization at its London headquarters.

The ICSW was formed in 1976 to bring together the main organisations involved in seafarers’ welfare, both aboard ship and ashore. It might be described as an ‘umbrella’ organisation, its main role being to promote those International Labour Organisation conventions and recommendations dealing with seafarers’ welfare matters. The hopefully impending coming into force of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006, with a strong focus upon welfare and wellbeing, will make this work even more important.

The ICSW stays a bit “below the horizon” and of course the “customers”, while being very well attuned to the work of the front-line agencies whose people they meet, may not know a great deal about it and the support it gives to these welfare organisations, whose operations do such a vital job around the world. The ICSW has members from a broad and varied base, which includes the International Shipping Federation, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the International Christian Maritime Association, national seafarer welfare boards, government services and individual agencies. The ILO is an observer organisation.

The organisation runs projects and programmes designed to help establish welfare facilities, services and structures throughout the world. It distributes health information for seafarers, it trains ship visitors, provides a port directory which lets people know of local welfare provision and amenities. In South and Southeast Asia, for example, it has helped to organise national welfare boards and port welfare committees. More power to their organisational elbows, you might say.

So the first International Seafarer Welfare Awards, presented by IMO secretary-general Efthimios Mitropoulos, seemed a very appropriate event in the Year of the Seafarer, which was reaching its conclusion. Seafarers had been asked to nominate their Port of the Year, Shipping Company of the Year and Seafarer Centre of the Year, and there were some 2000 nominations , which seemed an excellent result for a first competition. There was also a fourth category of Welfare Personality of the Year, which was an internal judgement.

Judging was not an easy task, and indeed, for the Port of the Year, it was decided to make a joint award to Barcelona and Singapore, with Tilbury, Houston and Kandla the equal runners up. In the Shipping Company of the Year category, there was long list of companies that take crew welfare seriously, and it was Bernhard Schulte Ship Management that walked off with the trophy, the runners up being BW Ship Management, Marlow Navigation, Teekay Shipping and Wallems. 

The Seafarers’ Centre of the Year award was won by the Rosenhill Seaman’s Centre in Gothenburg, runners up being the Mission to Seafarers in Fremantle, the Duckdalben in the Port of Hamburg, the Seafarers’ House in Port Everglades, and the Friends of Stella Maris in Venice. Ann Brogan of the Sailors Society was voted the Welfare Personality of the Year, ahead of Lloyd Nelson from Lake Charles, Father Patsy Foley from the Apostleship of the Seas, Tilbury, Penny Phillips from the Mission to Seafarers Falmouth, Ricardo Rodriguez Martos from AoS Barcelona, and Dr Suresh Idnani from the Seafarers’ Welfare Association of India.

I think what this new, and hopefully annual, award competition does is encourage people to look more imaginatively at what is delivered to seafarers in port. The winners and runners-up demonstrated much energy and imagination, in organising sport and social gatherings, sorting out the difficulties brought about by the enhanced security regime, helping seafarers communicate with their families and bringing welfare services to people aboard ship who are too busy or too far away to get ashore and a lot of other ideas. 

To read what people are doing to help seafarers is to be inspired and the hope is that these good ideas will spread, especially to those places in which they are ill-served.


Unacceptable hold up

Wednesday 12 January 2011

LIKE it or loathe it, sooner or later the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 is going to be ratified and will come into force.

However, the ongoing delays in its ratification, and hence implementation, do not serve shipping well.

When it comes to regulations, the one thing that is absolutely essential is certainty, and the delay to the MLC entering into force could create uncertainty through the time-lag with respect to the International Maritime Organization’s Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping convention, which is due to enter into force at the beginning of next year.

Despite the best efforts of maritime policymakers to ensure that MLC and STCW provisions are consistent with each other, they cannot take into account what approach port state authorities will take, which is where shipowners could come unstuck.

Flag states with large fleets should understand what is at stake. Some states evidently do, which is why Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands were quick to put pen to paper.

But it is incredible that after all these years of preparing for the new employment regulations that they are only among 11 of the 30 signatories required. What is even stranger is that the latest signatory is St Vincent and the Grenadines, which is hardly at the top end in terms of flag quality.

A significant proportion of large flag states still have to ratify, and it is difficult to understand why the delay continues. To blame it on austerity measures seems to be disingenuous at best. 

The UK still has one of the largest fleets in the world and appears to be nowhere near signing, even though its classification society, Lloyd’s Register, has been so vocal about shipowners’ need to prepare for it.

Is the coalition government so busy slashing public expenditure that it cannot for a few moments turn its mind to this?


New labour rules could miss 2012 start date

Tuesday 11 January 2011

THE Maritime Labour Convention 2006 is now unlikely to come into force before mid-2012 as government austerity drives slow down commitments to sign up to the convention.

It had been hoped that the ratification threshold would have been reached by the end of 2010 or early this year, especially with European Union countries expected to add their names.

It is expected to take until about the middle of this year before the number of countries required to ratify the Convention is achieved. It will then come into force 12 months later.

By the end of 2010 only 11 of the required 30 countries had ratified the MLC, with the last being St Vincent and the Grenadines back in early November. The tonnage requirement was met some time ago.

However, a number of countries are believed to be close to ratifying the MLC, including several EU countries, with Italy’s ratification understood to be imminent.

Natalie Shaw, employment affairs director at the International Shipping Federation, told Lloyd’s List: “This delay is frustrating but these things always take time and we have every confidence that it is going to happen.”

This delay to the MLC entering force will also mean a widening gap between the new IMO STCW Convention amendments coming into force at the beginning of 2012 and the MLC Convention some time later. This staggered entry into force of two key pieces of legislation affecting maritime employment and working conditions could lead to some uncertainty and confusion in the interim period, especially with regard to how port state authorities will interpret and enforce provisions at any particular time.

However, James Langley, senior adviser at the ISF commented that because the STCW amendments were framed to be consistent with the MLC in respect to rest hours rules “there should not be too much of a problem as the two are harmonised, though it would be better if they came into force together.”

This uncertainty as to when the MLC will come into force could also risk companies delaying taking necessary action to comply.

Reporting what Lloyd’s Register claims is the first pre-convention certificate of compliance to be issued, Piraeus-based marine business manager Tony Field said: “It’s great to see operators and flags getting on with the MLC 2006 requirements. Although we anticipate that the ratification will now be later than hoped by many, our view is that the sooner you start, the more comfortable you will be that you will be ready in time.”

LR issued its certificate to the Marshall Islands-registered handysize chemical/product tanker Kraslava, owned by Latvian Shipping Co. The Marshall Islands is one of the few countries that have so far passed legislation for Part A of the MLC.

However, these pre-compliance certificates have no legal standing until the convention is in force. Some other class societies have also claimed to be the first in issuing various MLC certificates.