SCI Responds to Abandoned Seafarers

Sep 24, 2008

SCI has been concerned with the problem of abandoned crews for several years.  On May 8, 1998, SCI sponsored a roundtable group devoted to addressing the problem of repatriating abandoned crews.  The roundtable report, entitled “There’s No Place Like Home: Repatriating the Industry’s Seafarers”, became the definitive reference on the topic of repatriation.  It was used as a key resource in the first meeting of Joint IMO/ILO (the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organization) Expert Working Group on Seafarers’ Claims for Personal Injury, Death and Abandonment in October 1999, where SCI Center for Seafarers’ Rights Director Douglas B. Stevenson was an advisor to the United States delegation.

The third meeting of the Joint IMO/ILO Expert Working Group adopted voluntary Guidelines on Provision of Financial Security in Case of Abandonment of Seafarers in May 2001.  Although the guidelines contained many of the recommendations contained in SCI’s roundtable report, SCI was concerned that voluntary guidelines would not have an effect on sub-standard ship operators who were unlikely to follow them.  In response, SCI initiated efforts to seek legislation in the United States that would require all vessels entering United States ports to have proof of financial responsibility to cover the costs of repatriating and paying wages to their crews.  Shipowner members of SCI’s Board of Trustees and other shipowners with protections already in place supported the initiative, desiring to raise the bar for their unfair competition.  This initiative was put on hold following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

During the Fall 2007 meeting of the IMO Legal Committee, U.S. Coast Guard Captain Chuck Michel, chief of the Coast Guard’s Maritime and International Law office, asked Douglas Stevenson to assist with an initiative, proposing a mandatory international instrument for ensuring financial security in cases of abandonment.  With Stevenson’s assistance, the United States tabled a draft convention to the Seventh meeting of the Joint IMO/ILO Expert Working Group held at the International Labour Organization in Geneva. Based on discussions at the Seventh meeting, a revised convention was debated at the Eighth meeting of the Joint IMO/ILO Expert Working Group in July 2008.  The proposal allows for maximum flexibility in how states create a system of financial responsibility, permits more States to ratify such an instrument, encourages creative solutions, and accommodates existing effective regimes.  As drafted, the proposed instrument would require flag States to ensure that their ships have adequate financial security systems in place.  It would also obligate the port States to ensure the same for ships entering or leaving their ports and offshore facilities.  This mechanism of interlocking conditions of port entry has the potential of ensuring widespread compliance with the financial security system requirements, even by vessels of non-State parties.

Douglas Stevenson will continue SCI’s efforts to eliminate the scourge of abandoned seafarers as an advisor to the United States delegation to the Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organization when discussions on the proposed mandatory requirements will continue in London in October 2008.