The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Maritime Registry takes the responsibility for the welfare of the seafarers serving on board RMI vessels, and their families, seriously and strives to ensure that all vessels flying the RMI flag remain fully compliant with all relevant international regulations, including the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006).
It has been more than four (4) years since the full ratification of this landmark convention and the question now arises: is MLC, 2006 really succeeding in improving the living and working conditions for seafarers on board commercial vessels at sea? From a flag State perspective, this is a complex question. The RMI Registry has over 4,000 vessels of all sizes and types, with more than 400,000 active seafarers. The vast majority of these vessels are run by responsible owners/operators that maintain very high standards in all aspects of their operations. Despite this, as a flag focused on quality, it was necessary to have a robust system for monitoring and addressing seafarer grievances since MLC, 2006 entered into force. To date, over 300 MLC, 2006 grievance cases have been addressed and data is continuously being compiled and analysed with respect to the long term trends within the RMI fleet.
Every MLC, 2006 grievance that is received by the Registry is thoroughly investigated by an experienced ex-ship Master. This is done in coordination with one of the 28 worldwide offices who have a direct client facing relationship with the relevant owner/operator. The experience thus far reflects that the most numerous MLC, 2006 related grievances, with respect to seafarer welfare at sea, is the timely payment of their wages. Fully 75% of all valid MLC, 2006 grievances that have been received are issues related to crew salary payment. These are not traditional contractual disputes (as a regulatory body, the Registry is unable to provide advice on contractual disputes), but rather salary related grievances, involving multiple crew members who are not being paid in a timely manner and/or in accordance with their (MLC, 2006 compliant) seafarer employment agreements.
In the most extreme cases, the entire crew, from the Captain down, have gone months without receiving any pay whatsoever. This can be one of the most damaging and devastating issues for seafarers. Most are working to support families as well as themselves, and a lack of wage regularity is a distressing blow for families who rely on prompt pay. Although a certain number of claims are found to be invalid, when it comes to MLC, 2006 related grievances, this is the issue that is most prevalent. Repatriation grievances are a firm second on the list, and can similarly be hugely detrimental to seafarers.
The remainder of the valid grievances that are received (approximately 25%) typically involve a single seafarer (complainant) and are widely varied in nature; they may be related to food and catering issues, unfair treatment, termination, vessel condition, contractual disputes, or any combination thereof. Although many of these grievances are just as serious in nature as the wage issues covered previously, overall, other discernible trends have not been detected with respect to RMI seafarer welfare at sea.
Regarding non-valid MLC, 2006 grievances, surprisingly, approximately 50% of the grievances received are invalid, for one reason or another. The primary reason for invalid grievances is that the vessel that the complainant is working aboard is not covered under MLC, 2006 (i.e., an RMI private yacht, fishing vessel, or mobile offshore unit). The remainder of the invalid complaints received are investigated and simply do not stand up to scrutiny and are closed out.
Ensuring the Registry effectively deals with these numerous grievances to make certain that the welfare of RMI seafarers and their families is maintained in accordance with international regulation is often times a monumental task. In addition to numerous Nautical Inspectors and Auditors doing the daily work of boarding and inspecting RMI vessels, the RMI has an active delegation that attends both the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) meetings on a regular basis to keep abreast of the latest regulatory developments. For each valid MLC, 2006 complaint, an Action Team is assembled which may contain anywhere from 2-10 team members.
Each case dealt with, whether it is deemed valid or not, is recorded and tracked on an MLC, 2006 Grievance Status Board, which is updated daily, and sometimes hourly, if necessary. Bi-annual MLC, 2006 reports are presented internally regarding statistics, trends, lessons learned, and relevant regulatory updates to ensure that MLC, 2006 is a top-down organizational priority.
Based on the data available to the RMI Registry and the analysis thereof, MLC, 2006 has succeeded in improving the working and living conditions on board RMI vessels.
By Captain John Hafner, Vice President, Seafarers' Manning & Training at International Registries, Inc.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
Captain John Hafner is Vice President of Seafarers' Manning & Training at International Registries, Inc.
International Registries, Inc. and its affiliates (IRI) provide administrative and technical support to the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Maritime and Corporate Registries. The RMI Registry is the second largest registry in the world, surpassing 158 million gross tons with 4,341 vessels at the end of February 2018. IRI has a network of 28 worldwide offices that have the ability to register a vessel or yacht, including those under construction, record a mortgage or financing charter, incorporate a company, issue seafarer documentation, and service clientele.
The quality of the RMI fleet can be measured by the RMI’s continued White List status on both the Paris and Tokyo Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs). The RMI also meets the flag criteria for a low risk ship under the Paris and Tokyo MoU’s New Inspection Regimes, and has qualified for the United States Coast Guard’s Qualship 21 roster for 13 consecutive years, which is unprecedented.
The most important asset to the Registry is its customers and IRI strives to provide them with full service from any office, 24 hours a day.