President Doumbia-Henry Hails ILO's Adoption of Amendments to the MLC, 2006 Protecting Seafarers in the Event of Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea

From my perspective as the President of the World Maritime University (WMU) and as a former ILO Director closely involved for over 15 years with the development and adoption, and later the implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006 as amended), I can only say that I am delighted to see the recent adoption by the ILO’s Special Tripartite Committee (STC) established under the MLC, 2006 of these very important amendments to the Code of the Convention. These and other and indeed future amendments have been on the cards since the adoption of the MLC, 2006.  At the time the MLC, 2006 was adopted it was foreseen that it would, of course, need to grow and change in the future to meet new needs of seafarers and conditions in the industry. This is the reason for the very detailed provisions creating the STC and a procedure to allow the international representatives of Seafarers, Shipowners and Governments to the ILO to meet on a regular basis to discuss issues as they arise and develop solutions on a tripartite basis and to amend the more technical parts of the Convention - the Code of the MLC, 2006.

The adoption of these latest amendments demonstrates how well this process is working.  With respect to these recent amendments, I have no doubt that the question of piracy and armed robbery poses significant challenges to the industry, including how best to protect seafarers and at the same time to recognize the economic impact of this problem on the industry. I recall that a  first attempt was made in 2015 with the submission of a proposal to discuss the issue when the Tripartite Committee held its 2ndmeeting in February 2016.  A Working Group was set up in 2016 to examine the issues raised and to make proposal to the 3rdMeeting of the STC which was just held from 23-27 April 2018.

I am, therefore, delighted to see the adoption by the 3rd Session of the STC of the amendments to the relevant provisions of the MLC, 2006 as revised. The proposed amendments close the gaps in the event of piracy and armed robbery with respect to seafarers’ employment agreements (SEAs), continuation of the payment of wages and the right to repatriation. The amendments, if approved by the International Labour Conference at its annual meeting in June 2018 will, when they come into force under the facilitated acceptance procedure of the Convention, provide protection to seafarers with respect to the continuation of their SEAs when they are held captive on or off a ship as a result of piracy or armed robbery against their ship. In such circumstances, an SEA will continue to have effect regardless of the date fixed for its expiry or whether or not either the shipowner or the seafarer had given notice to suspend or terminate the contract. 

It is significant that the amendments also seek to work with other important international legal instruments in terms of the definition of “piracy” which is described as having the same meaning of that set out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982.  It also gives a clear and strong definition of  “armed robbery against a ship” which deals with a wider range of situations as follows:

“any illegal act of violence or detention or any act of depredation, or threat thereof, other than an act of piracy, committed for private ends and directed against a ship or against persons or property on board such a ship, within a State’s internal waters, archipelagic waters and territorial sea, or any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described above.”

This definition is broad and the provision of the amendment would prohibit shipowners from terminating the SEA during the periods resulting from the defined acts of piracy or armed robbery, and maintains the seafarer’s right to repatriation. To be clear, the amendments provide that a seafarer who is held captive as a result of piracy or armed robbery is entitled to continue to receive wages and other entitlements during the entire period of captivity and until released and duly repatriated or where the seafarer dies in captivity until the date of death in accordance with the applicable national laws or regulations. This includes responsibility of the shipowner to continue to remit allotments to persons nominated by the seafarer.

These amendments have an important significance in terms of the legal certainty that they provide and also the protection they extend to seafarers  and their families when faced with the most horrid of crimes in today’s modern world and also with respect to the lessening of the financial impact on their families already distressed by their captivity.

I commend the ILO tripartite constituency on taking this very bold step, closing a long-standing gap for seafarers as piracy and armed robbery at sea are among the oldest of crimes that we have seen raise its ugly head over and over again. 

The final adoption of these amendments by the ILO tripartite constituency, during the 107thSession of the International Labour Conference in May-June this year, will send an important signal to the world that the scourge of piracy and armed robbery are evils to be eliminated and that employers will meet their responsibilities when such events take place. These protections will also reassure seafarers of the indispensable role they play and the contributions they make in moving more than 80% of world trade and those working in the cruise ship and commercial yachting sectors, ensuring that ships and shipping remains safe, secure, environmentally sustainable.

I must also refer to the important resolutions adopted by the recent STC and in particular, the importance of the resolution relating to the need to facilitate shore leave and transit for seafarers arriving in ports of foreign countries. This resolution highlights the importance of implementation of a rather technical, but very important, ILO maritime labour Convention dealing with biometrics and Seafarers Identity Documents (Convention No. 185) and the way it can, if implemented widely, serve to support the needs of the industry and seafarers and also enhance border security. 

After 29 years of working with the ILO and working from the late 1990s to see the development and adoption of the MLC, 2006 and its entry into force in 2014 as well as its first amendment in 2014 which already entered into force, I am truly proud that it is a living instrument that must be amended to keep up with developments impacting the industry. In this case, the provisions adopted have completed unfinished business. This third set of amendments also demonstrates that the STC is a powerful instrument that will ensure the continued relevance and impact of the MLC, 2006 as revised.

Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry
World Maritime University
Malmö, Sweden
2 May 2018