Seafarers' Continuous Service – Ships Calling Australian Ports
We continue to see ships calling at Australian ports with crew on board that have served lengthy periods at sea, in some cases, seafarer contracts have been extend well past 12 months' continuous service on board. The issue of prolonged time at sea, materially exacerbated by COVID-19 travel restrictions, has not escaped the vigilant attention of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
AMSA conducts approximately 3000 port state control inspections each year. AMSA enforces the MLC and it is common for AMSA to scrutinise crew employment contracts, records of crew service, and crew wage accounts as part of routine PSC inspections. Owners can expect vessel detentions until any identified breaches are rectified.
Interpretation of the MLC is not universal or fixed.
To meet the additional difficulties caused by COVID 19 travel restrictions, from 1 July 2020 to 1 October 2020 AMSA extended the upper limit of a seafarer's continuous service on board up to and including 14 months, in specific circumstances, including that repatriation plans were in place before the expiry of the 14th month on board.
Current Regulatory Requirements Effective 1 October 2020
AMSA has now reverted to the pre-COVID position and Australia now stipulates that a seafarer's maximum period of continuous service is 11 months. An extension up to 13 months on board could only be by seafarer/owner mutual agreement and in compliance with flag state rules. Extensions of service in excess of 13 months could lead to vessel detention until rectified or a plan of action agreed and put into place for the seafarer's repatriation. (Marine Notice 17/2016)
AMSA will not take action if the seafarer has served continuously for up to 11 months.
- For periods of continuous service of between 11 and 13 months,and this occurred with the full consent of the seafarer and in accordance with any flag State requirements, the non-compliance will be brought to the attention of the master and the vessel owner, with an expectation that the non-compliance will be rectified at the earliest possible opportunity. Due consideration to flag States policy in this regard may be taken into account.
- For periods of service in excess of 13 months, or in cases of systematic breaches, the vessel will be detained until owners have rectified the non-conformities or AMSA is satisfied that an appropriate plan is in place and the plan will be implemented expeditiously.
- AMSA will not entertain extensions beyond 14 months unless the owner or master can satisfactorily demonstrate that all possible efforts have been made to repatriate the seafarer and that seafarer has consented in writing to the extension.
Seafarers working under contracts of employment that do not meet Australian requirements can expect AMSA to require that the seafarer(s) be repatriated.
With recent and well-publicised problems of crew repatriation around the globe, vessels subject to Australian port state control inspection can expect a rigorous examination of the crew's employment history. Owners should be making timely arrangements to repatriate crew before any non-compliance arises and owners and masters are well advised to have to hand the crew's continuous employment history, with all mutually agreed extensions properly documented.
For further information, please contact the author of this briefing;