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NEW research from a team at the World Maritime University underlines systemic failures in the implementation of the regulatory regime for seafarers’ hours of work and rest, undermining the credibility of international regulations relating to working hours.

A culture of adjustment, by Dr Raphael Baumler, Yvette de Klerk, Dr Michael Ekow Manuel and Dr Laura Carballo Piñeiro confirms previous research that suggested recording malpractices are widespread, which seriously questions the capacity of the current regulatory framework to prevent fatigue and mitigate its effects.

“This is particularly concerning with the number of seafarers serving well beyond their contractual terms and having to take on additional tasks as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the ITF Seafarers’ Trust and the WMU in a statement.

The analysis indicates that insufficient manning is the root cause of violations especially during peak workload conditions. Imbalance between workload and manning levels indicate that flag states do not always fulfil responsibilities, nor do they ensure that shipowners carry out theirs with due regard to efficient and sufficient manning levels onboard ships.

“The fear of the negative consequences of failing inspections and creating problems for shipping companies outweighs the obligation to genuinely comply with international regulations,” the statement read.

“Employment insecurity accompanied by financial incentives contributes to an environment where adjustment instead of accuracy is the logical outcome. For seafarers, the sole objective of recording hours is to confirm compliance and avoid disruptions to the schedule.”

According to the report, “They are trapped in cognitive dissonance, where deviance is normalised”.

According to Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, president of the WMU, “Seafarers have a right to the protections set out in international maritime conventions and in particular in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 as amended as well as in the IMO STCW Conventions as amended.

“This report is a wake-up call to regulators, industry and seafarers themselves.  The system is flawed with respect to implementation and needs serious attention.”

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But many companies appear disinterested in seafarers’ feedback on this issue and flag state surveys are limited to reviewing paperwork with no verification of the reality of work onboard.

“Inevitably the effectiveness of the International Safety Management Code must be questioned,” said ITF Seafarers’ Trust and the WMU.

A further concern is the fact that participants in the study, which included representatives from international and regional maritime organisations, the shipping industry and maritime unions as well as seafarers themselves, were convinced that any records are similarly susceptible to the practice of adjustment.

The authors of the report propose three significant areas for urgent attention. The first is the need for collaboration on a research-based model for determining safe manning for all operational conditions. The second is a review of the effectiveness of the ISM code and the third is to consider the “chronic mistrust between shore and ship personnel combined with the job insecurity characteristic of numerous seafarers’ working contracts”.

Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust said, “The ITF Seafarers’ Trust was pleased to provide financial support for this independent research by WMU. The findings are devastatingly comprehensive.

“Now the onus in on flags states, ports states, industry and unions to come together for the benefit of the seafarers to facilitate cultural change and restore the credibility of international maritime regulations.”

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