In support of the Day of the Seafarer campaign, we would like to recognise the key role that seafarers play during these trying times. From all of us at BASS, we express our deepest gratitude to those involved in delivering essential goods to people around the world.

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) sets out requirements and provisions that govern the working and living conditions of seafarers. Among the areas dealt with in the MLC are the quality and quantity of food and catering, and recreational facilities, that must be provided on ships. Since it came into effect almost 7 years ago, the shipping industry has built upon this foundation to further improve the welfare of its employees, but is it doing enough to address the concerns of the modern-day seafarer?

Food and Catering

Regulation 3.2 of the MLC provides the requirements for food and catering. The following are some of the best practices that shipping companies must adhere to comply with the regulation:

  1. Seafarers must first and foremost “have access to good quality food and drinking water under regulated hygienic conditions”. As such, frequent documented inspections are carried out by the relevant authorities with respect to food and drinking supplies, and cooking spaces and equipment (A quick note that our newly launched BASSnet Inspection App allows users to conduct audits and inspections anywhere at any time from a mobile device).
  2. The positive impacts of a healthy diet cannot be overstated. The crew is required to walk long distances and perform manual tasks onboard, so they need sufficient energy to perform their day-to-day duties. Members of the catering staff and ships’ cooks are thus required to have gone through the necessary training and certification exercises to provide seafarers with food of nutritional value in quantities that are optimal for their health and fitness.
  3. Educational materials and onboard information regarding nutrition and methods of ensuring proper food supply are also available to help the crew deal with questions of food and health.
  4. Meal schedules are prepared on a daily or weekly basis (depending on the size of the vessel) for at least 5 meals a day, reviewed and approved by the ship’s master. This should include a healthy variety of meals and special dietary restrictions for religious or health purposes.
  5. Similar to other crew members, reports can be made against the cooking crew if they do not comply with a decent standard of quality or quantity, and arrangements can be made to replace the cook, for example, although that is very rare.
  6. As the crew is generally not allowed to cook on their own, besides preparing simple meals like bread or using the microwave, the catering department can obtain miscellaneous food items like cakes or snacks when the ship is at the port. This is important for the mental well-being of seafarers who are onboard for months and may be craving the simple pleasures that are not readily available at sea. It is also important to celebrate special occasions like birthdays or Christmas as a family unit to increase the bond between crew members and reduce the wistful longing of their loved ones back home.

Recreation

  1. As the crew is generally not allowed to cook on their own, besides preparing simple meals like bread or using the microwave, the catering department can obtain miscellaneous food items like cakes or snacks when the ship is at the port. This is important for the mental well-being of seafarers who are onboard for months and may be craving the simple pleasures that are not readily available at sea. It is also important to celebrate special occasions like birthdays or Christmas as a family unit to increase the bond between crew members and reduce the wistful longing of their loved ones back home.
  2. Communal facilities such as shared computers, television, CD/DVD player, and gaming equipment (with sufficient movies/games for the duration of the voyage) are also made available in the recreation room for the crew to enjoy leisurely. These offer a brief respite from everyday life on board and is a good way for the crew to come together to have some fun.
  3. For optimum physical and mental health, sports and exercise equipment are provided in the gym room. Larger vessels may even have a swimming pool. Similar to other recreational activities, sporting activities are vital to satisfy the seafarer’s desire for competition and physical movement. And with food being served at no cost, many seafarers feel the need to burn the calories they gain, while some end their voyage heavier than when they had started. Which begs the question: should exercise be made mandatory at least once a day?
  4. To improve seafarers’ mental and emotional welfare, the MLC also suggests that wherever possible, partners, relatives and friends of crew members can be granted permission to come onboard when the ship is at port. In fact, there is also a consideration to allow seafarers to be accompanied by their partners on certain voyages, where reasonable. Of course, this is subject to the proper security clearance and adequate insurance cover.

Conclusion

As of this year, more than 91% of the world’s shipping fleet is being regulated under the MLC. The requirements set in the MLC do a good job of protecting the seafarer’s rights to decent working and living conditions. Indeed, many seafarers have good memories of their life at sea and form strong friendships onboard long voyages.

But there are also many who have had terrible experiences with the lack of variety and quality food, hygiene, and recreational facilities. It is therefore important that seafarers do their due diligence before signing a contract to ensure that the ship is regulated under the MLC and that it is complied with onboard. The MLC lays out in Regulation 5.1.5 complaint procedures that enable any crew member to file a complaint without being unfairly treated.

That being said, the MLC should continue to be reviewed from time to time to improve enforcement and ensure that we do not miss out on important aspects of a seafarer’s well-being, as well as to keep up-to-date on changes in the global society that would affect the shipping industry.