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THE AUSTRALIAN Maritime Safety Authority’s proposal to mandate the reporting of seafarer fatalities has been formally accepted as an amendment to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006.

The Special Tripartite Committee of the MLC 2006, comprising seafarer and shipowner representatives and governments, met in May this year to decide which of 12 proposed amendments would officially be included in the convention.

AMSA’s proposal was among eight agreed on at the meeting. Now, having progressed through a final vote on 6 June, the MLC 2006 will be amended to make it mandatory to report seafarer fatalities at sea. The amendment will enter into force in December 2024.

The initiative was spearheaded by Dr Michelle Grech, vessel operations manager at AMSA. She told DCN that AMSA’s efforts were in response to a visible gap in reporting deaths at sea.

“At the moment, fatalities in relation to the operation of a vessel – such as fatal injuries – are required to be reported to the International Maritime Organization, but not all other fatalities have to be reported,” Dr Grech said.

“For example, it is not mandatory to report persons overboard incidents or suicides, so that information is never collected or collated.”

Dr Grech said AMSA received enough reports to indicate there had been an increase in persons overboard incidents during the pandemic, but there was little data to confirm the extent of the issue outside of Australian waters.

“This was a real problem in terms of understanding how widespread the issue was. Is it localised? Is it happening globally? Is there a similar trend in suicides? Are we seeing an increasing trend? We didn’t have the data to give us an indication of what was happening around the world.

“The availability of such data is critical to allow for patterns and trends to be analysed so we can better target areas of concern such as mental health.”

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The idea to push for mandatory reporting of fatalities at sea at an international level took root prior to the pandemic, at an Australian Seafarers’ Welfare Council meeting.

For the proposal to be considered by the Special Tripartite Committee, Australia (represented by AMSA) needed support from a minimum of five member states. New Zealand, Norway France, Kenya and Panama were co-sponsors to Australia’s proposal.

Despite overwhelming support from governments of the Special Tripartite Committee, Dr Grech said there was some pushback from parties concerned about identifying vessels where a fatality had occurred, particularly in cases of suicide.

“Originally, our proposal had included [disclosure] of IMO numbers,” Dr Grech said. “For us, it’s clear we shouldn’t be hiding this. If it happens onboard a particular vessel, there should be accountability and transparency.

“Eventually we compromised on the proposal … in terms of being able to identify the trends and seeing where the issues are. That means we’ll get the vessel details, but not the IMO number which would link that vessel to a particular company.”

Dr Grech said the intent is for vessel IMO numbers to eventually be included in the mandate, once the advantages of full transparency in reporting become visible. She said AMSA plans to work to “add another layer” to the MLC amendment during the next round of amendments in the coming years.

The aspect of seafarer confidentiality was paramount during discussions, and Dr Grech confirmed seafarers will remain anonymous in the reporting of fatalities at sea.

Until the amendment enters into force in December 2024, AMSA will likely be working with the ILO to further develop the framework of how data is collected and classified.

“Australia should be proud,” Dr Grech said. “It’s a really big step for the industry, and what we’ve [accomplished] has propelled the industry forward.”

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