Inside the Issues

Security Rules Tightened

2003

The human rights of seafarers, including the entitlement to shore leave, are to be addressed in new international maritime security regulations after positive and successful intervention by the ITF


Delegates from more than 100 governments approved the new measures in December 2002 after the ITF tabled a document outlining a list of provisions, such as on shore leave and workload, necessary to protect seafarers. These were all incorporated into what will become part of the Safety of Life at Sea convention (Solas), one of the main instruments governing the maritime industry.

Brought forward in the wake of the terrorist atrocities in the US in September 2001, it had been feared that the regulations could severely restrict the rights of seafarers – exposing them to repeated security checks as well as imposing limits on their freedom of movement.

Seafarers at a number of ports in the US have faced restrictions on movement and there have been reports of armed guards on gangways. But determined pressure from the ITF has brought recognition of the delicate balance between the need to protect security and the human rights of those on board the world’s ships.

Jon Whitlow, ITF Seafarers’ Section Secretary, welcomed the outcome of the meeting of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), but warned that the rules would now be introduced through national legislation, which needed to be monitored closely.

“From the beginning we have said that maritime security needs to be improved – the world will accept no less – but not by victimising innocent seafarers. I’m glad to report that these negotiations included and addressed our concerns in a sensitive and realistic manner. The implications on extra workloads were included, along with shore leave – although delicate negotiations continue on that issue.”      

A new International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS)
At the heart of the new measures is a new International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS), which orders governments to employ risk management techniques to ships and port facilities.

Each vessel and each port will have to have security plans and a nominated security officer. Ships will need a ship-to-shore security alert system and have to maintain on-board an accurate history of the vessel.

However, the code contains a clear instruction that the rights and freedoms of maritime workers need to be protected. “Contracting governments, when approving ship and port facility security plans, should pay due cognisance to the fact that the ship’s personnel live and work on the vessel and need shore leave and access to shore-based seafarer welfare facilities, including medical care.”

In addition, port security plans are specifically required to allow visitor access to ships, including “representatives of seafarers’ welfare and labour organisations”. ITF inspectors should be guaranteed access to vessels as a result of this provision.

Jon Whitlow said: “Although the Solas provisions will not solve the problems seafarers are experiencing in gaining shore leave, we hope they will give greater political emphasis to the issue and help in securing a satisfactory outcome.”

Further details of the code also reflect ITF concerns. Trade unions were keen to make sure that seafarers should not be required to search their colleagues when returning to ship and this has been recognised directly. All searches must again take into account the rights of seafarers and “preserve their basic human dignity”.

The duties of the designated “security officer”, which will be required on-board ships, is likely to fall on one of the navigating officers, adding to their workload. With crewing levels already at a minimum, the ITF was concerned that these extra duties would be added without an appreciation of the impact this would have on safe manning levels.

But in part B of the code, which gives guidance on how the regulations should be implemented, the need to consider minimum safe manning provisions is considered. There is also the proviso that ships should be able to operate with statutory hours of rest and other measures designed to address fatigue.

All the measures in the Solas convention come into force in July 2004. Ships will be subject to a system of survey, verification, certification, and control to ensure that their security measures are implemented. Vessels will have to carry a ship security certificate, which will become part of the routine port state control inspection.

The issue of a new seafarers’ identity document is to be discussed in a joint working group of the IMO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and finalised at the ILO’s annual conference in June. The ITF is preparing for this and will seek to ensure that the human rights of seafarers are protected.