Study Finds "Widespread" Discrepancies in MLC Hours of Work Reporting

clear seas file seafarer
File image courtesy Clear Seas

Published Nov 10, 2020 10:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

A new study published by the World Maritime University (WMU) confirms "widespread" discrepancies in MLC hours of work and rest reporting aboard merchant ships, in a new acknowledgement of the challenges still facing the regulation's implementation. Based on a series of interviews with about 80 stakeholders - including seafarers, vessel operators, port state control officials, industry associations and NGOs - the research team said that their data "confirms existing literature and suggests that recording malpractices are widespread."

The underlying cause of misreporting is ultimately a shortage of manpower, according to 85 percent of the participants. The research team pointed to understaffing by operators and underregulation by flag states as the likely primary cause, along with insufficient port state enforcement. Interviewees reported a low level of utilization of the non-binding IMO "principles" for minimum safe manning determinations.

To adapt to the mismatch between manning and workload, seafarers have developed a 'culture of adjustment,' according to the report. Many work as required by the task at hand, then adjust their MLC hours of rest paperwork as needed to make it compliant. As port state control inspectors have so many other high-priority items to check, these inaccuracies often go undetected.

"For seafarers, the sole objective of recording work/rest hours is to confirm compliance to avoid disruptions to vessel operations and not to confirm actual working time onboard," the researchers reported. "They seem unable to prioritize their allegiance: ship interests or regulations. They are trapped in cognitive dissonance, where deviance is normalized."

Participants suggested that this culture permeates recordkeeping, extending into logbook entries, drills, maintenance records and oil record book entries (a significant source of liability in some jurisdictions). If left unaddressed, the researchers warned, a culture of inaccurate reporting and incomplete enforcement "will be increasingly detrimental to the shipping industry and international maritime governance."

To address the problem, the team suggested implementing new legally-binding minimum manning provisions at the ILO and IMO level, along with a revision of the current MLC hour limits. The team heard "stark criticism" of the thresholds specified in the existing hours of work regulations from most stakeholders. "It’s not based on any scientific evidence; it’s a social agreement between Parties at IMO – it has nothing to do with human physiology," commented one industry organization representative in a stakeholder interview. "It's a useless instrument really – if I have to be that black and white about it."