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Saturday, 13 November 2010

The MLC 2010 - a view from June 2009 . . .

Here's something I wrote on the MLC-2010 about a year and a half ago.

Big question - will the MLC 2010 just mean yet another youngish inspector with attitude onboard ships, and now in office, too?


Probably the most important maritime legislation coming our way is the "Consolidated Maritime Labour Convention" (CMLC). This is an amalgamation of all the various International Labour Organisation (ILO) instruments, documents and all other regulations and codes that pertain to life for seafarers - that's over 50 such international labour standards, some going as far back as the 1920s.. While the ratification and implementation criteria are already defined, and the pre-requisites for introducing it in practice are already in place, it will still be around 2011-2012 before it actually comes into effect.
What that means, in simple English, is that life at sea for law-abiding flags and seafarers onboard is about to change. Very much. The big thing it lays out is the right of seafarers to decent living and working conditions. Worldwide. In addition, at first glance, it is easy to read, and involves the view of both seafarers as well as owners/operators. And ofcourse, environmental protection - an even bigger subject under this one now.
The parts which will really interest those still at sea or planning to go to sea,  from the specific point of view of being a "shippie", which we can expect to see covered and implemented in very quick order, are laid out in brief. Broadly, these are divided into the following categories:-
1) the minimum requirements for seafarers to work onboard ships.
2) conditions of employment.
3) accomodation, recreation facilities, food and catering.
4) health protection, welfare, medical care and social protection.
5) compliance and enforcement.
So will shipping truly become the world's first global industry, with equal standards for all, regardless of nationality of individual or flag of vessel or any other differentiators? Wait, there is much more - and it probably also spells much better opportunity for seafarers who are ready to understand what is going on.
However, first off, look at the exemptions. Coastal ships, "traditional" vessels like dhows and junks, ships below a certain size, fishing vessels and some other specific types are exempted. But even there, fact remains, some amount of global standards would rub off eventually. Just see the level of sophistication and electronic equipment available on some of the dhows plying in and around the Gulf lately, for example, they put some 10-20 year old ships to shame. There is in all likelihood a "catch-up" kind of scenario going to exist here. First off, hopefully the "launches" at Gateway of India are improved.
On the other hand, the rules for implementation and ensuring adherence have just become tougher, and give Port State Control even wider and often sweeping powers. For example, Article V.6 of this Convention states very clearly that:- " Members shall prohibit violations of the requirements of this Convention and shall, in accordance with international law, establish sanctions or require the adoption of corrective measures under their laws that are adequate to discourage such violations [wherever they occur]." Ship detention can now be resorted to for simply being from a flag that did not ratify this convention, never mind adherence otherwise to the letter and spirit, which is a significant addition to and also rather important departure from the inspection based regime currently in force. Yours could be the best ship in the world, but if your flag was not adhering, then you can be detained - simple as that.
The next big thing is definition of a "seafarer". For the first time, this definition goes beyond the traditional navigator, engineer, saloon and other departments at sea - it now brings in a simple definition:- ""any person who is employed, engaged or works in any capacity on board a ship that is covered by the Convention."". That's really, really wide. Hotel workers onboard? Temporary "flying crew" joining a ship for repairs? Pilots, port or deep-sea? Cadets? Even workers from stevedoring gangs, discharging the ship? Writers, like yours truly, sailing on board for any reason soon? Training personnel?
But the biggest change is, as always, in the commercial aspects. Ships from non-complying countries will no longer be able to pose unfair and cheaper competition to those from complying countries. This is where the convention in a manner of speaking, "comes ashore". Will the laws cover everything from basic bills of lading onwards, to newer multi-modal documents, and would this then impact insurance as well as possible post-facto increase in commercially agreed on terms and conditions, as well as costs?
The debate may have just begun, the implementation is not in doubt. Overall, in this correspondent's opinion, this is a very welcome legislation for everyone.
Now let's be there to implement it? To do that, you first have to read it. All of it. Why wait for a "course", when it is there on the internet, with commentary and all?
Veeresh Malik is pleasantly surprised, after a decade in the infotech industry, to see the high level of international codification and improvement in things Mercantile Marine. Both at sea and ashore.

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