The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), an international agreement to safeguard seafarers’ rights, may detain North Sea supply vessels and support ships in port that do not comply with new maritime labour law, Pinsent Masons shipping and maritime law specialist Katie Williams has warned.

Effective in the UK from 7 August, the new law also holds for sea-going commercial ships.

Under legislation, ship owners will be responsible for ensuring seafarers’ basic levels of pay, sick pay, holiday entitlement and medical care. If seafarers are not satisfied, they can lodge a complaint against their employer or the ship owner.

"The MLC consolidates what has been in place in the UK for some years, but a major change is that…it has an enforcement mechanism with real ‘teeth’."

Williams said: "Traditionally grievances or disputes over wages or other working terms would have been a private employment issue between seafarer and employer, but this law creates a new and specific complaints procedure which can be directed squarely at ship owners or operators who will face the same obligations as the employer.

"The MLC is something of a revolution in seafarer’s employment rights and ship owners and vessel operators should seek specialist advice on existing contractual and commercial relationships, and new obligations they must now address."

Though, many UK operators follow the MLC law, some foreign vessels moving through UK waters may not comply with the standards.

Williams said that, in such cases, the UK’s enforcement body, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, could order the detention of ships docking at Aberdeen Harbour and other UK ports.

"The Maritime Labour Convention consolidates what has been in place in the UK for some years, but a major change is that for the first time it has an enforcement mechanism with real ‘teeth’."

Alternatively, a vessel compliant in the UK may be detained in a foreign port and could lead to expensive delays.

Currently, 63 countries have signed up with the MLC, which has ordered vessel detentions in ten cases involving ships in Canada, Denmark, the Russian Federation and Spain that were moving under the flags of Cyprus, Liberia, the Netherlands, Panama and Tanzania.