AMSA will launch a new concentrated inspection campaign (CIC) later this year, in conjunction with the Tokyo and Indian Ocean MoUs, focusing on seafarers’ employment conditions.

The authority says issues relating to conditions of employment continue to make up most of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) complaints received and relate to seafarer employment agreements, wages, hours of work and rest, entitlement to leave, repatriation, and crewing levels.

“This indicates that the MLC requirements that address employment conditions of seafarers are not being fully implemented by some owners and operators,” AMSA says in its latest Maritime Safety Awareness Bulletin.

“It is vital that seafarers’ rights and welfare be respected to ensure healthy, safe and secure work environments. 

The MLC 2006 sets out the standards relating to the working and living conditions of seafarers. In Australia, the MLC has been implemented through the Navigation Act 2012 and associated delegated legislation such as Marine Order 11 (Living and working conditions on vessels).”

The authority cites two case studies:

On 2 December 2022, a foreign-flagged vessel was arrested in Melbourne due to commercial disputes and owed wages. On 5 January 2023, AMSA, in consultation with the flag State and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) issued a notice of abandonment to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in accordance with the ILO Guidelines on how to deal with seafarer abandonment cases. This was the first time AMSA has had to issue an abandonment notice. On 23 January 2023, all seafarers were repatriated with all outstanding wages settled by June 2023.

In August 2023, AMSA received a complaint from the ITF that there were insufficient provisions onboard a vessel as well as issues with wages and hours of work and rest. AMSA inspected the vessel and the evidence showed: seafarers were not being paid at monthly intervals in accordance with their Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA); their signatures on the SEAs were forged; seafarers were being coerced to sign new SEAs with lower salaries. The vessel was subsequently detained. Approximately $76,890 of wages was recovered and paid in full to the seafarers prior to the vessel being released from detention and the vessel was subsequently banned from Australian waters for one year.

Complaints relating to Title 2 of the MLC – Conditions of employment continue to make up the majority (54%) of MLC complaints reported to AMSA in 2023. This is consistent with previous years. The proportion of these complaints in relation to all others decreased slightly from 57% in 2022 to 54% in 2023.

Complaints received on seafarer employment agreements decreased from 17.5% in 2022 to 16% in 2023. Similarly, repatriation-related complaints decreased from 23.9% in 2022 to 14% in 2023. “This indicates that AMSA’s response to repatriation complaints is effective, and industry and operators are more aware and better equipped to manage the repatriation of seafarers,” AMSA says.

AMSA intends to run the CIC focusing on seafarers’ employment conditions to ensure shipping companies are fulfilling their obligations in accordance with the relevant provisions of the MLC from 1 September 2024 to 30 November 2024.