Improving the lot of Bangladeshi seafarers

Dhaka,  Fri,  22 September 2017
Published : 13 May 2017, 19:41:20

Improving the lot of Bangladeshi seafarers

Moklasur Rahman
Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006 is meant to protect the right of seafarers which is treated as "Fourth Pillar" next to SOLAS, MARPOL and STCW of International Maritime Organisation (IMO). It is also called "Bill of Right" among the 1.2 million professional seafarers around the world.

The actual number of maritime service holders of Bangladesh is not clear. The tragic part is that the Bangladeshi seafarers find it difficult to work in foreign vessels due mainly to ambiguity of national law, manual filing process, corruption and indemnity by one or other section of the law. 

At present Bangladeshi seafarers do not have much demand in the international maritime transportation industry. For the welfare of this sector, there is no particular maritime labour law in Bangladesh which can protect the seafarers' rights. There are some provisions in favour of seafarers in the Bangladesh Merchant Shipping Ordinance (BMSO) 1983 which certainly fail to implement the MLC 2006.

Basically, MLC is an inclusive international labour Convention for the seafarers adopted by the International Labour Conference (ILC) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).  It came into operation on the August 20, 2013 for all types of vessels where every ship of 500 Gross Ton (GT) or above and operating internationally, should have the Maritime Labour Certificate and Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (DMLC)-I. DMLC-II is required by the shipping company and DMLC-III by the government or recognised agency. 

In response to implementing the MLC, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has ratified it on November 06, 2014. MLC is an equal chance for both the seafarers and the ship owners in providing a decent working and living environment for seafarers.

The significance of MLC is that it does not apply directly to ship-owners, ships or seafarers, instead it depends on implementation by Member State through its national rules and regulations. Bangladesh Merchant Shipping Ordinance (BMSO) is not wholly in conformity with MLC. Regulation 1.1 of the MLC states that the minimum age of seafarers should not be below 16 years, whereas section 98 of the BMSO, 1983 states the minimum age as 15 years. Section, 113, BMSO, 1983 states that if any dispute arises with the crew outside Bangladesh such dispute shall be referred to the Bangladesh Consular Officer (BCO) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the decision thereon shall be binding on the parties until the return of the ship to the port or place in Bangladesh.  But this is not being effectively reflected in mitigating disputes.  

The indemnity provision under Section 511 of BMSO appears not to be in the spirit of the wellbeing of the seafarers as misuse may lead to malpractices and abuse of authority. Inadequate pecuniary jurisdiction and accountability of the Shipping Master under the Department of Shipping seriously affects the seafarers. 

For strategic geographic position and existence of the Panama Canal, The Republic of Panama can be treated as a cornerstone of the maritime trade in the world. Moreover, the Panama Registry is in charge of managing the world's largest ship registry with more than 8,000 registered vessels which account for 18 per cent of the world fleet. So, a sound diplomatic relation between Bangladesh and the Republic of Panama can open immense opportunity for the seafarers and ocean-going shipping companies of Bangladesh to strengthen our blue-economic approach. 

The theory of comparative advantage is a branch of economics according to which shipping company will definitely recruit from the developing countries like Bangladesh if we can produce skilled human resource. It is worth noting that Malaysia, Philippines, India and Myanmar have fast developed their economies through tapping the work opportunities in maritime transportation.  So, at first, we need to implement MLC in Bangladesh. 

Student of LLM Maritime Law, BSMR Maritime University, Bangladesh.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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