Seafarer wellbeing a casualty of pandemic, says ICS

The annual Shipping Industry Flag State Performance Table, from the International Chamber of Shipping, has identified reporting on seafarer wellbeing as a “casualty of the pandemic,” following its publication in late January.

The Table is intended to encourage shipowners to maintain a dialogue with their Flag states, and help facilitate necessary improvements in the interests of safety, the environment and decent working conditions, among other issues. The Flag State of a merchant ship is the jurisdiction under whose laws the ship is registered or licensed and is deemed the nationality of the vessel.

This year’s Table highlights a drop in levels of reporting on the status of national ILO labor standards, including the 2006 Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), underscoring the severe administrative pressures of the pandemic and the ongoing ‘crew change crisis’ on seafarers, governments and the industry alike. 

The Table’s criterion assessing flag states’ reporting on ILO labor standards, including the MLC, revealed a six-percentage point decrease in Flag States successfully meeting their obligations.

The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, which compiled the report used by the ICS Table, noted that “there was a sharp decrease in the number of reports received by the deadline of 1 October this year in relation to previous years.”

In total, of the 2,004 reports on labor standards requested by the ILO from governments in 2021, only 42.9% of these requests were granted. This is in comparison to a 70.7% rate of reporting received by the ILO the previous year.

The findings were an outlier against a generally strong performance across the board from most Flag States, on criteria such as Port State Control (PSC) records and ratification of international conventions. 

ICS noted that while this trend can be partly explained by administrative pressures brought about by COVID-19, it also serves as a reminder that the hardships suffered by the global workforce throughout this pandemic may not be at the forefront of national administrations’ minds.

Guy Platten, ICS Secretary General, commented: “The pandemic has been a challenge for us all and one that Flag States have also had to weather. However, the drop off in reporting against ILO Labor Standards, including the MLC, is further evidence that seafarer wellbeing has been an unintended casualty of the pandemic.

“Hundreds of thousands of seafarers have been trapped on ships for many months beyond their scheduled tours of duty throughout the last two years. This report is a reminder that Flag States must keep seafarer wellbeing as a top priority.”

Amongst the 10 largest ships registers (by dead weight tonnage), covering more than 75% of the world fleet, none have more than two indicators of potentially negative performance, and five have no negative indicators at all.

The findings also suggest that distinctions between ‘traditional’ flags and open registers are no longer meaningful, with many open registers amongst the very top performers, alongside several European registers.

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