Report from the December 2022 IMO/ILO Joint Tripartite Working Group

The governing bodies of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Labor Organization (ILO) approved creating a Joint Tripartite Working Group (JTWG) to identify and address seafarers’ issues and the human element. The JTWG already has several items on its worklist, including the abandonment of seafarers, sexual assault/sexual harassment in the merchant marine, and criminalization of seafarers.

The JTWG met for the first time December 13-15, in Geneva, Switzerland, to review and approve guidelines on how to deal with seafarer abandonment issues, and SCI’s Center for Mariner Advocacy Director Phil Schifflin attended this meeting as head of the International Christian Maritime Association’s (ICMA) delegation. After much discussion, deliberation, and hard work, the group ultimately approved guidelines that establish best practices for key parties (shipowners, surety providers, flag states, port states, and labor-supplying states) to better respond to seafarer abandonment cases. These guidelines are recommended as best practices; they are not mandatory.

The next step for the proposed guidelines is forwarding them to the IMO’s Legal Committee Meeting for review and consideration in March 2023—Phil will be attending that meeting. If the Legal Committee approves the proposed guidelines without change, they could be promulgated as joint ILO/IMO guidelines shortly after. If the Legal Committee makes any substantive changes to the guidelines, they will have to be forwarded to the ILO for review and consideration. If this occurs, the promulgation of these guidelines will be delayed for at least a year or possibly longer.

The next JTWG meeting is tentatively scheduled for late 2023 (likely November or December) and will most likely be looking at ways to better address Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment issues in the merchant marine.