Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers adopted by IMO Legal Committee

Legal Committee (LEG) - 91st session: 24-28 April 2006

Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident have been adopted by the IMO's Legal Committee, which met for its 91st session from 24 to 28 April 2006.

The Guidelines, developed by a Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on the Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of a Maritime Accident, will also be submitted to the ILO Governing Body, which meets in June, for adoption.

The Guidelines recommend that they be observed in all instances where seafarers may be detained by public authorities in the event of a maritime accident.

Seafarers are recognized as a special category of worker, the guidelines state. Given the global nature of the shipping industry and the different jurisdictions with which they may be brought into contact, they need special protection, especially in relation to contact with public authorities. The objective of the Guidelines is to ensure that seafarers are treated fairly following a maritime accident and during any investigation and detention by public authorities and that detention is for no longer than necessary.

The Guidelines give advice on steps to be taken by all those who may be involved following an incident: the port or coastal State, flag State, the seafarer's State, the shipowner and seafarers themselves. The emphasis is on co-operation and communication between those involved and in ensuring that no discriminatory or retaliatory measures are taken against seafarers because of their participation in investigations. The Guidelines say that all necessary measures should be taken to ensure the fair treatment of seafarers.

The Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on the Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of a Maritime Accident was established in 2005 to work on the development of appropriate guidelines for endorsement by IMO and ILO. A resolution prepared by the Group and subsequently adopted jointly by the IMO Assembly and the ILO Governing Body last December (A.987(24)) states that both ILO and IMO are seriously concerned about the need to ensure the fair treatment of seafarers in view of the growing use of criminal proceedings against seafarers after a maritime accident. The resolution recognises the urgency of adopting Guidelines as a matter of priority and, to this end, requested the Group to finalise its work expeditiously. The Group completed this task in March 2006.

Speaking at the close of the Legal Committee meeting, IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos told delegates: "The adoption of guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers has marked a highlight of this session. By doing so, you were able, in a genuine demonstration of the IMO spirit of co-operation and compromise, to take the collective decision that it was vital to promulgate these guidelines by consensus and as soon as possible and so to send a clear signal to seafarers around the world that it is the wish of the IMO family that they should be treated fairly. I am sure it will be appreciated by the maritime community at large and the seafarers in particular."

Member Governments are invited, in the resolution, to implement the Guidelines as from 1 July 2006

Wreck removal convention
In other work, the Legal Committee moved a step closer towards completion of the draft text of the new convention on the removal of wrecks.

Once adopted and in force, the new convention will provide the legal basis for States to remove, or have removed, from their EEZs, wrecks that may pose a hazard to navigation or, because of the nature of their cargo, to the marine and coastal environments, or to both. The new convention will also safeguard the rights and specify the duties of owners of wrecked ships to remove them by their own means, or with the assistance of salvors.

It is intended to hold a diplomatic conference to adopt the new convention in 2007.

Athens Protocol
Further to the request of the Assembly in resolution A.988(24), the Committee discussed two outstanding key issues relating to the 2002 Athens Protocol aimed at facilitating its entry into force.

These concern the ability of the insurance market to provide compulsory cover up to the general limits established under the Convention and, more particularly, its ability to provide insurance cover for death, injury and damage to passengers on sea voyages arising out of acts of terrorism. Such cover is required under the Protocol.

HNS Convention
The Committee agreed on an interpretation of article 1.5(a)(ii) of the 1996 International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea (the HNS Convention). The article refers to "noxious liquid substances carried in bulk referred to in Appendix II of Annex II to MARPOL 73/78, as amended", and the interpretation makes it clear that if, as expected, the revised Annex II to MARPOL 73/78 enters into force on 1 January 2007, the reference to "noxious liquid substances carried in bulk" in article 1.5(a)(ii) of the HNS Convention will, as from that date, refer to noxious liquid substances as defined in regulation 1.10 of the revised Annex II of MARPOL 73/78, which are carried in bulk.

The HNS Convention currently has eight Contracting States (Angola, Cyprus, Morocco, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Slovenia and Tonga). Entry into force will be 18 months after 12 States have accepted the Convention, four of which have not less than two million units of gross tonnage, provided that persons in these States who would be responsible to pay contributions to the general account have received a total quantity of at least 40 million tonnes of contributing cargo in the preceding calendar year.

Briefing 13, 28 April 2006

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