Despite reports of crews remaining stranded onboard due to COVID-19 restrictions globally, in Canada, seafarers are considered as workers in the marine transportation sector who are essential for the movement of goods by vessel during the pandemic.
As such, Transport Canada is also working closely with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Canada Boarder Services Agency to help with crew changes.
Canada is also a signatory to international conventions such as the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC 2006), who protect seafarers rights.
Seafarer employment agreements (SEA)
The latest Information note on maritime labour issues and COVID-19 from the ILO, indicates that the competent authority (e.g. flag State) can authorize exemptions to the MLC 2006 for imperative reasons of public health emergency and situations of force majeure.
A foreign vessel operating in Canadian waters:
- must comply with the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 at all times
- must have a valid Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA) onboard for each crew member and this agreement must be signed by both the seafarer and shipowner, or a representative of the shipowner
- the seafarer must be given enough time to review and get advice on the agreement (or extension), and freely accepts the terms and conditions before signing
- each seafarer must have a valid employment agreement until they are repatriated
- All efforts must be made by the shipowner to repatriate crew members to ensure they are not serving longer than 11 months from the date of joining the vessel.
- Foreign vessels in Canadian waters operating without a valid SEA for all crew members will be subject to enforcement action such as, but not limited to, detention and/or Administrative Monetary Penalty.
If your vessel has seafarers that have been onboard more than 11 months, you need to show that:
- all possible efforts have been made to repatriate the seafarer and that there are unforeseen event(s) beyond the control of the ship-owner that have made it impossible to perform crew change
- the seafarer has freely accepted the extension
- you have a plan, approved by your vessel’s flag State, to return the seafarer to their home country (repatriate) that you will put into action as soon as possible
- you have taken action to protect the mental health of seafarers and fight fatigue.
Port state control inspections
As a foreign vessel operating in Canadian waters, your vessel can be inspected to make sure you are complying with the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and international conventions.
During port state control inspections, the PSC Officers will check on any crew who have been onboard more than 11 months. The officers will verify, among others:
- the date of joining
- the number and length of consecutive contracts that the seafarer has signed
- why crew change was not planned or done in Canada
- whether or not the vessel was recently in a port where crew could have changed
If there are any issues, the officers won’t allow the vessel to proceed to sea until the non-conformities have been rectified, or until they accept a flag State-approved plan of action to rectify such non-conformities and is satisfied that the plan will be put in place as soon as possible.