ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), the so called "ILO Super Convention" is expected to enter into force on August the 20th as the 4th pillar of Maritime Regulatory Compliance along with SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW. As the clock is ticking towards the deadline let's see if the MLC will deliver the promised land.


Myths about MLC

Despite all the good work done MLC by default will NOT necessarily benefit enough as long as every "Shipowner" may select a flag that does not ratify MLC. Since MLC certificate is NOT a trading certificate, there is nothing to change that.

Going beyond the "regulatory" nature of MLC, we have to also ask: Has SOLAS, MARPOL or STCW introduction by itself improved the shipping industry without the entire implementation framework (vetting, PSC, etc.)? The answer is definitely NOT! All these regulations exist for many years; - e.g. SOLAS is 100 years old - however accidents do happen and vessels are still being detained. The remarkable difference is the IMPLEMENTATION MONITORING, mainly by PSC, Majors, Vetting Inspectors and Incident/Accident Investigators. This is why a major improvement shift has been observed over the last 20 years. Shipping still remains a SOLAS based industry as the majority of PSC deficiencies, up to 70%, are related to SOLAS. There is no indication that this industry will change its course due to the introduction of a new rule, as there are no key drivers for implementation!

Some MLC objectives have not been properly addressed!

Despite common belief, MLC key objectives will not be achieved with the convention itself. MLC - by default- will NOT provide for better working and living conditions onboard, nor assist towards attracting neither retaining qualified seafarers onboard, mainly because it does not properly addresses key motivation factors. To review that let's compare head to head with the offshore industry by considering the following issues:

  1. MIN Pay. Not established within MLC, however easier said than done as there are different pay levels for different nationalities
  2. MAX GUARANTEED contract duration (e.g. 12 months) that would motivate operators to see the long term benefits in HR terms
  3. Guaranteed MAX period of stay onboard and MIN period of ashore staying (e.g. 9 months contract spending MAX 6 months onboard and MIN 3 months ashore) to properly address the fatigue factor
  4. MIN Safe manning that would make sense, in relation to ship type, size and trade. In these days every flag has a different approach! You may see some of the biggest ships in the world with a MIN safe manning of 11-13 persons!
  5. Responsibilities for BOTH sides (including financial responsibility and possible penalties). Now MLC addresses only the rights of the seafarers, not their responsibilities. As a consequence, there is no clear indication of what constitutes default of the seafarer.
  6. A clear Legal Jurisdiction regime to sort out any disputes, fair enough for the operator and the seafarer.

It is obvious that MLC is not addressing any of the above key factors that would ensure a common playing field in the market to attract talented crew. Instead, as we consistently monitor, shipping industry is shifting to the east for less talented/costly crew as globalization rules in this cost sensitive industry.

Guessing the outcome of MLC implementation impact

As the industry is currently in a recession and speculations are that it will be in the long run, MLC implementation will NOT change the "status quo" for sure. There was no regulation in the past that changed the existing conditions (at the time of introduction) despite the inspiration of the regulators (unlimited examples exist, starting from ISM and ISPS to SOLAS and MARPOL requirements). The industry will most probably find a new modus operandi within the years 2014/2015 till we face a case where the human element will play a vital role, an accident for example which is long overdue !


Apostolos Belokas

Principal Consultant & CEO, SQE Marine Group

Managing Editor www.Safety4Sea.com