Gearing up for MLC 2006

Jun 30 2013

There have been many initiatives announced aimed either wholly, or partly to cater for the forthcoming Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006), due to enter force on 20th August.

MLC 2006 will become one of the major regulatory documents of the maritime industry along with the SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL Conventions.

This comprehensive document applies to more than 1.2 mill seafarers worldwide, including those working on ships whose flag states have not ratified the Convention.

Many of the leading class societies together with major shipping organisations have issued guidelines.

Taking the Russian Register (RS) as an example, it has established a special unit – the MLC Department. This new department has been in operation since 1st June, 2013 and covers the whole range of issues connected to the register’s services in the relevant segment of the market, the register said.

RS explained that MLC 2006 provides for systematic monitoring of working and living conditions on board ships and formulates requirements for organisations engaged in the recruiting and placement of seafarers (crewing companies). After it enters into force, owners will have to confirm their co-operation with crewing companies in compliance with the MLC requirements.

The register will hold ship inspections under the MLC requirements, issue and endorse the Certificate of Maritime Labour Compliance, as well as consider and endorse the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance. For crewing companies, RS offers voluntary certification under the MLC, plus the issue and endorsement of the certificate of compliance.

In addition, RS said that it will provide advisory services for the MLC requirements implementation in ship operations. This will cover a review of the company’s internal operations, safety management system, development of system for complying with the MLC requirements (policy, certificate forms, guides, document flow, procedures, records, responsibilities) and issue an official letter of opinion on compliance with the MLC.

After the MLC, 2006 enforcement, parties to the Convention will require vessels to carry and to regularly endorse the Certificate of Maritime Labour Compliance and the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance.

The Declaration should contain national requirements to ensure compliance with the provisions of MLC, 2006, in respect of seafarers’ working and living conditions and set down the measures to be taken by the owner to ensure compliance with those requirements on board a particular ship, or ships.


Medical concerns

One seafarer need, which is perhaps too easily overlooked, is the ability to cater for medical emergencies on board a vessel, which is covered in MLC 2006 under crew healthcare. To address this need, US software developer Diginonymous and Maritime Medical Access Program at The George Washington University (GWU) Medical Faculty Associates have teamed up to offer an shipboard video telemedicine service.

The two partners have developed the Digi+Doc service, a maritime medical solution bringing together GWU’s decades of experience and Diginonymous’ products to provide immediate, round-the-clock phone and video medical consultation for vessels at sea.

Digi+Doc subscribers, including current shipowners, such as US-based Maersk Line, have immediate access 24/7 to a team of more than 550 physicians and nearly 50 specialists at the GWU Medical Faculty.

The Digi+Doc communications systems are based on the DigiGone software platform, which offers low-cost, encrypted video and audio conferencing, video streaming, Voice over IP (VoIP), IM Chat and file transfer, optimised for maritime satellite channels.

DigiGone software can be installed on most PCs, laptops, tablets, or smartphones. It can work over VSAT, Inmarsat, Thuraya IP and other networks, with satellite airtime costs much lower than other commercial teleconferencing services, such as Skype.

In addition to teleconferencing, Diginonymous’ remote viewing station (RVS) for telemedicine enhances a vessel’s ability to access medical services and transmit medical data. The kit facilitates the real-time transmission of data from the ship to a remote medical expert through instruments, such as a handheld electro-cardiogram device, blood pressure machine, electronic thermometer and microscope camera.

“Digi+Doc is an ideal solution for shipowners to meet the new international regulations for crew health and medical treatment required by MLC 2006,” said George Spohn, Diginonymous’ senior vice president for global sales and marketing. “By offering real-time teleconferencing with experienced emergency physicians, many crew illnesses and injuries can be treated on board without an expensive helicopter evacuation or port diversion.”

Title 4 of MLC 2006 requires that health protection and medical care for seafarers must be as compatible as possible to that which is generally available to workers ashore, including prompt access to the necessary medicines, medical equipment and facilities for diagnosis and treatment and to medical information and expertise.

“There is general agreement among emergency clinicians that seeing the patient greatly improves correct diagnosis and treatment for illnesses or injuries,” said James Betz, programme manager, Maritime Medical Access. “The combination of real-time diagnostic sensor readings with a visual inspection of the patient can reduce misdiagnosis or over-triaging, increasing the likelihood that the vessel will stay on course and not have to divert for a medical emergency. With follow-up teleconferences, the remote physician can determine when the crew member can safely resume work.”

Spohn noted that the DigiGone video software and hardware kit can also be used for other shipboard applications such as troubleshooting equipment failures and realtime anti-piracy security, in addition to telemedicine.

All that’s needed for shipowners to take advantage of Digi+Doc is to install the DigiGone software on a shipboard computer, and sign up for an annual subscription to the Maritime Medical Access Service at GWU.

“The entire cost of the system, including software license, medical access subscription and satellite airtime, is far less than the expense of a single incident requiring medical evacuation or port diversion,” said Spohn. “In addition, the telemedicine service can reduce time off for a sick or injured crew member and will provide important documentation in the event of a crew claim.”

Indeed, Spohn told Tanker Operator that a general ballpark figure would be in the region of $139 per vessel, made up of an initial fee of $39 for the software license and $100 per month per vessel. He also said that he saw the potential for a considerable uptake of the service, especially for vessels trading, or calling in remote ports and harbours.

Based in Tampa, Florida, Diginonymous is a software development and hardware integration company specialising in encrypted software-based communication and security solutions that are portable, claimed to be easy to use and cost-effective. DigiGone, the company’s product brand, is a collaboration tool used by US and international military forces and government agencies, as well as global shipping companies, media outlets, financial institutions and retail applications.

As for Maritime Medical Access, this concern has been delivering remote medical services to the worldwide maritime and aviation industries since 1989. It is part of the Department of Emergency Medicine at The George Washington University and is affiliated with the International Emergency Medicine Program at the Ronald Reagan Institute of Emergency Medicine.


Cash or cards?

Within the MLC, there are several paragraphs that discuss remittances. Specifically – ‘each member shall require that shipowners take measures….to provide seafarers with a means to transmit all, or part of their earnings to their families, or dependents, or legal beneficiaries….’ ‘….a system for enabling seafarers, at the time of entering employment, or during it, to allot….a proportion of their wages for remittance…..’

One company involved in offering seafarers the ability to use cards instead of cash is US-based CrewCash. The company’s Stuart Ostrow explained that as well as a seafarer owning a prepaid Visa card, a companion card can be used to transfer funds by seafarers and/or their employers. In addition, the company is working on a system whereby seafarers can transfer funds from their CrewCash Visa card to any other Visa credit, or debit card in the world and almost any bank account in the world via a wire transfer.

Ostrow explained that CrewCash is a seafarer prepaid Visa payroll card, which provides an alternative to receiving wages in cash, or having funds wired home to a bank account. The card can be used worldwide at ATMs, stores, merchants and for online purchases.

Another service, ShipMoney is a prepaid Visa purchasing card for Masters and officers that can be used as an alternative to cash on board, or used to pay third party agencies for provisions, emergency repairs, etc. The card can be loaded/unloaded in real time 24/7 with an activity report sent to the company.

The cards are accessed using the chip and PIN method, enabling the same amount of security as bank debit cards. They cannot be copied, or used should they become lost, or stolen, Ostrow claimed.

He also explained said that the cost of delivering cash to a vessel is fairly expensive, typically around 4%, or more. However, the card programmes are aimed at reducing the amount of cash on board, rather than eliminating its use entirely. Cash will always be required, but its amount and the number of deliveries can be reduced, thus saving a company money.

The cards are owned by the seafarer and when he, or she goes ashore, they can be used at any outlet accepting Visa. If there are funds remaining on the card when the seafarer goes home, he, or she can continue to use the card until their return to the vessel and start to receive wages, thus topping up the card.

Ostrow stressed that the cards are Visa prepaid cards and are not credit cards. Seafarers can only spend up to the maximum balance showing on their cards. The program has a robust alert system that sends an SMS message and email for every transaction, which includes the name of the merchant and the balance on each card.

The programme’s depository bank is Citibank, New York. Clients wire funds to a designated account set up on their behalf. Once the funds are cleared, the cards can be loaded 24/7 with a file upload on the client’s portal.


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