The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has expressed high hopes that progress can now be made in regard to improving the facilitation of shore leave and crew transfers for the world’s 1.5 million merchant seamen, who all together account for transporting roughly 90% of the world trade.

This comes following important recommendations by an International Labour Organization (ILO) tripartite meeting of employers, seafarers’ unions and governments in Geneva during the past week, at which ICS co-ordinated the shipowners’ representation.

The ILO meeting strongly considered making eventual adjustments regarding the Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003 (ILO 185), and also outlined a pathway that could bring about improvements relating to the welfare of sailors while not forgetting to address the legitimate security concerns expressed by governments.

ILO 185 stipulates that ratifying nations must issue resident seafarers with Seafarers’ Identity Documents (SIDs), and also facilitate the entering of foreign seamen holding SIDs into their territory for the purposes of shore leave, transfer and transit. Despite that, since its entry into power back in 2003, the Convention has so far failed to generate a widespread implementation, largely due to the fact that the technical standards adopted have been now superseded by the current technologies and infrastructure that are being used for the issuance as well as verification of ePassports.

The meeting that took place this past week managed to bring together governments and the ILO ‘Social Partners’ in a close effort to consider and discuss the issues at hand and to come up with formal recommendations for the ILO Governing Body on potential options that may help the process of a further ratification and more widespread implementation regarding the above-mentioned ILO 185.

The recommendation that showed the most promise was a proposal related to the Seafarers’ Identity Documents’ technical specifications, within the annexes to ILO 185, and more specifically it related to the fact that they should be updated so that they could be brought into line with the current technologies that are being used for ePassports. If this were to happen it would mean the inclusion of a facial image biometric as well as a digital signature within the SIDs, with both of the signatures being stored on a contactless chip, thus making SIDs inter-operable via the infrastructure that is used by the majority of countries for issuing ePassports along with verifying them at their borders.

Joe Cox (President of the Chamber of Shipping of America), the shipowners’ spokesman appointed for the respectful meeting, elaborated:

“The principal concern that most shipowners, with respect to ILO 185, have always had is that it should generally help to make sure that seafarers have access to shore leave and to ensure their ability of joining or leaving a particular vessel when in a foreign country. Technical issues however have clearly rendered the widespread implementation by governments impossible. While attempting to address some of the mentioned issues, the meeting’s recommendations have formulated a potential pathway going forward that could very well make the governments’ efforts to ratify and implement this important Convention far easier.”

The recommendations are to be taken into consideration at a future meeting of the ILO Governing Body which will be tasked with considering whether or not the proposed measures should be taken going forward.

“The effective and efficient implementation of the ILO 185 is of great importance when it comes to the welfare of seamen along with the global shipping industry’s efficiency, as well as addressing the legitimate security concerns expressed by governments” commented Mr Cox. “Thus it will be required by the ILO Governing Body to carefully consider the recommendations that have been made by this ILO tripartite meeting.”

Source: ICS