North Sea supply vessels and support ships could be detained in port if they are found to be failing to comply with a new maritime law which today comes in to effect in the UK, a legal expert has warned.
The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is an international agreement which safeguards the employment rights, working conditions and health care of seafarers working across the globe.
The Convention applies to seagoing commercial ships and holds ship owners responsible for ensuring seafarers receive basic levels of pay, sick pay, holiday entitlement and medical care.
While most UK operators are already compliant with MLC criteria, some vessels operating in the North Sea and others navigating through UK waters under other national flags may not adhere to the same standards.
Katie Williams, a shipping and maritime law specialist at Pinsent Masons in Aberdeen, said in such cases the UK’s enforcement body, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, could order the detention of ships docking at Aberdeen Harbour and other UK ports.
She said: “The Maritime Labour Convention consolidates what has been in place in the UK for some years, but a major change is that for the first time it has an enforcement mechanism with real ‘teeth’.
“Many shipping companies and charterers have invested significant time and effort in trying to ensure that they will comply with the new regime, however the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will be looking to set down a marker that they intend to rigorously apply the new laws.
“It would be a nightmare scenario for a boat which is chartered at thousands of pounds a day to be detained in port, but it is feasible that in extreme circumstances this could happen.”
Sixty three nations have signed up to the MLC and so far maritime authorities have ordered vessel detentions in at least 10 cases involving ships in Canada, Denmark, the Russian Federation and Spain, which were sailing under the flags of Cyprus, Liberia, the Netherlands, Panama and Tanzania.
There is also a risk that British-flagged vessels could face detention in foreign ports where a complaint has been made by a crew member and local port authorities have taken a different interpretation of the Convention.
“There is a possibility that a vessel which would be viewed as compliant in the UK is detained in a foreign port in circumstances in which we would find difficult to understand and this could lead to expensive delays.”
Pinsent Masons also warned that while the Convention does protect seafarers and makes owners and operators more accountable, it also opens up another avenue for complaints to be lodged.
Ms Williams added: “Traditionally grievances or disputes over wages or other working terms would have been a private employment issue between seafarer and employer, but this law creates a new and specific complaints procedure which can be directed squarely at ship owners or operators who will face the same obligations as the employer.
“The MLC is something of a revolution in seafarer’s employment rights and ship owners and vessel operators should seek specialist advice on existing contractual and commercial relationships and new obligations they must now address.”