IMO Discusses Seafarers, Migrants and Pirates

The IMO Legal Committee met for its 102nd session between 14-16 April 2015 with further discussion undertaken on the issues of seafarer welfare, piracy and the current migrant crisis.

Addressing unsafe migration at sea

The Committee considered the issue of unsafe mixed migration by sea. An intersessional discussion on the study of the current legal regime and gaps that needed to be addressed in order to remedy the drastic situation concerning migrants at sea is to be coordinated by Malta and Italy, with the support of Denmark.

During discussion on the issue, the views expressed included:

•    the issue of mixed migration was a global problem and search and rescue systems maintained by the shipping community were not designed for rescuing hundreds of thousands of people drifting on small, unseaworthy boats left in shipping lanes;

•    the Legal Committee should review the international legal regime dealing with the complex issue of migration by sea and identify gaps that needed to be addressed;

•    the issue should also be referred to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), Facilitation Committee (FAL) and the Council as a matter of priority;

•    the situation of migrants at sea and search and rescue services in the Mediterranean region was desperate, with urgent action needed.

Implementation of Guidelines on fair treatment encouraged

The Committee encouraged Member States, who had not yet done so, to give effect to the 2006 Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident, adopted jointly by IMO and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Committee was informed of the analysis of replies from Member States to the survey circulated by Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI) on behalf of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations (IFSMA) concerning the 2006 Guidelines.

The survey of replies analyzed 45 responses, representing 26 percent of the Member States of IMO. Of those, 13 Member States (29 percent of the respondents), representing a wide range of different legal systems, stated that their existing laws already adequately protect the human and other legal rights of seafarers contained in the Guidelines and that, therefore, there was no need for the Guidelines to be passed into their existing laws.

Seventeen Member States (38 percent of the respondents) have passed the Guidelines, either in whole or in part, into their national laws, either explicitly or implicitly.

Fifteen Member States (33 percent of the respondents) requested assistance in the form of information regarding the meaning of the Guidelines and/or model legislation by the IMO for the purpose of giving effect to the Guidelines.

Criminalization of Seafarers

The Committee concluded that further consideration was needed regarding the progressive removal of legislation targeting seafarers and imposing criminal sanctions on them. It was also highlighted that seafarers should be given greater training and awareness of their rights.

The Committee supported the speedy implementation of the guidelines and noted with gratitude the willingness of the shipping industry bodies to contribute financially towards work to support the wide implementation of the guidelines.

The view was expressed that IMO’s technical cooperation program could be used to support implementation while a number of States informed the Committee that they were ready to share their national legislation giving effect to the guidelines.

IMO’s counter-piracy efforts 

The Committee was updated on the current status of the Secretariat’s counter-piracy initiatives in relation to piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea, and was informed that piracy would remain contained, as long as merchant ships continued to implement IMO guidance and best management practices.

Following the expiration of the IMO Project Implementation Unit (PIU), the IMO Secretariat would continue to support the implementation of the Djibouti Code of Conduct. The main focus with respect to Somalia was to help develop the maritime sector through mainstream capacity-building under the auspices of the Technical Cooperation Committee (TCC), with a view to creating sustainable employment opportunities as an alternative to piracy.

It was noted that the capacity-building programs of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), supported by IMO, had made significant progress in upgrading legislation and judicial capacity in Somalia and the wider region.

Member States were urged by the Committee to complete the Questionnaire on information on port and coastal State requirements related to privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships (annexed to MSC FAL.1/Circ.2) and to submit the information to the Organization at their earliest convenience.