Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of SRI, conveyed that the centre is currently engaged in a project to evaluate the effectiveness of the MLC, 2006 in terms of its implementation and enforcement.
The project is being expanded to evaluate how COVID-19 affected the implementation of the Convention. Three matters are particularly important. It is widely documented that core provisions of the MLC, 2006, have been denied, diminished or ignored during the pandemic.
The United Nations system and the international maritime industry responded with an unprecedented level of cooperation. The increasingly urgent calls made by over 700 entities to address the plight of seafarers and support the maritime industry produced positive achievements. However, many problems persisted, and created a humanitarian crisis of depression, despair and suicide, further exacerbated by the lack of access to vaccines.
The integrity, authority and reputation of the MLC, 2006 was seriously undermined and a completely new “COVID-19 amendment” is therefore needed to ensure full and effective enforcement of the Convention in the future. Such an amendment should build on the achievements already made, be in the interests of governments, shipowners and seafarers equally, and be enforceable.
Without such an amendment, the next pandemic would render the MLC, 2006 meaningless.
The pandemic severely worsened the physical and mental fatigue of seafarers, which in turn increased the risk of casualties. More than ever, seafarers need fair treatment following maritime casualties. Over the years, SRI conducted face-to-face interviews with over 8,600 seafarers of around 70 different nationalities, and over 80 per cent of those interviewed indicated that they feared criminalization in the event of maritime incidents, a fear that is increasing. Although many improvements were made in law and practice, more needs to be done.
Fair treatment is in the interests of seafarers, shipowners and member States alike, and the MLC, 2006 does not currently provide for the fair treatment of seafarers following a maritime casualty. The Convention should therefore be amended to provide protection for seafarers against unfair treatment and criminalization, especially in the context of the pandemic.
Finally, the findings of the SRI project evaluating the effectiveness of the Convention, is based on interviews with 5,000 seafarers from ten countries, and reveal many concerns, particularly in relation to wages, fatigue and career development. Seafarers expressed concern about the timely payment of wages, underpayment, practices of double accounting and security for wages and jobs. Seafarers are prepared to turn to lawyers to recover their wages, but lawyers have little knowledge of the MLC, 2006. There is therefore a need for education for the legal profession, including judges, on the MLC, 2006.
In relation to fatigue, which is not a new issue, seafarers referred to pervasive violations in the observance of hours of work and hours of rest, which represents a collective failure of the international community and is a profound threat to safety.
With regard to career and skills development, seafarers indicated that they are anxious about future skills needs in the context of automation. And now, with the added anxiety of the pandemic, more seafarers than ever indicated that mistreatment is driving them to question their careers at sea.