Travel restrictions and quarantine measures that have been implemented worldwide to help limit the spread of COVID-19 are beginning to impact seafarer working conditions.
This includes the ability of seafarers to be repatriated home at the end of their service or to join a ship at a foreign port.
The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) has strict controls on service periods at sea and seafarers’ rights to repatriation. These controls are important measures in upholding the basic rights to decent working and living conditions, both of which contribute to seafarers’ welfare.
However, travel restrictions and quarantine measures for COVID-19 may inadvertently create situations where seafarers are unable to leave a ship at the end of their contracts with service periods on board being extended. This may, in some cases, trigger a breach of the MLC.
Australia is a signatory to the Tokyo Memorandum of Understanding on port State control, an alliance of maritime authorities from the Asia-Pacific region. All 21 member States, including Australia represented by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), have agreed to take a pragmatic approach to this issue.
It is important that the measures put in place by various governments to limit the spread of COVID-19 are adhered to.
To facilitate this in Australian waters, AMSA as a port State control authority will consider requests from ship owners and operators for individual cases where foreign seafarer repatriation and service periods have been impacted by travel restrictions and quarantine measures.
This may include allowing for the extension of a seafarer’s service period beyond the maximum allowed time frame of 11 months under the MLC.
Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Owners and operators will be required to provide a plan detailing why flexibility under MLC is required. This will include how the process will be managed and demonstrate that the ship’s flag State authority, the seafarer and relevant seafarer organisations have been involved and agree with the plan.
The Tokyo MOU has guidelines for shipping companies which will be available online.
Australia, through the Department of Health and the Australian Border Force, have published guidance for maritime workers, including pilots, on Australia’s border requirements. This includes how to protect against COVID-19. Information is available at: