Purpose of this report

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is pleased to present the 2020 Australian, Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) annual report. This report presents an analysis of MLC complaints, compliance and follow up actions undertaken by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in Australia. The data represents 2020 statistics, with a comparison to the previous four years.

2020 has been a particularly challenging year for seafarers with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting their situation on board, in particular repatriation to and from ships.

This report aims to present a baseline of findings on some of the issues uncovered in 2020 related to operations of the MLC in Australian waters. This information is instrumental in identifying some of the welfare issues on board and assists in implementing programs to improve seafarer welfare conditions at sea and in port.

Introduction of the MLC

Adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the MLC came into force on 20 August 2013. Australia implemented the convention at the same time. The MLC provides regulations relating to the working and living conditions of seafarers on ships. It aims to ensure a comprehensive worldwide protection of the rights of seafarers to decent conditions of work. It also aims to establish a level playing field for countries and ship-owners committed to providing decent working and living conditions for seafarers, protecting them from unfair competition on the part of substandard ships. 

The implementation of the MLC has made a significant contribution to the improvement of living and working conditions for seafarers. AMSA is committed to continuing its efforts to ensure that seafarers continue to get the treatment they deserve. 

Seaferer anchoring vessel with sunset in background

Application of the MLC

The MLC applies to all commercial vessels whether publicly or privately owned. It does not apply to fishing vessels, vessels of traditional build (such as dhows and junks), warships or naval auxiliaries or vessels not ordinarily engaged in commercial activities.

The MLC is intended to be globally applicable and uniformly enforced. A list of the 97 member states that have ratified the Convention after 20 August 2013 can be found on the ILO website at ilo.org.  Ships that fly the flag of any State that has not ratified the MLC do not receive any more favourable treatment than ships that are ratified, when in a port of signatory.

Australia’s obligation under the MLC

In Australia, the MLC is implemented primarily through the Navigation Act 2012 and associated delegated legislation such as Marine Order 11 (Living and working conditions on vessels). AMSA is primarily responsible for the MLC in Australia.

AMSA verifies compliance with MLC by:

  • Responding to all MLC complaints from seafarers engaged on vessels in, or coming into, Australian ports.
  • Conducting port State Control inspections of vessels coming into Australian ports.
  • Requiring registered Australian vessels to be certified in accordance with the MLC, as given effect by Marine Order 11 (Living and working conditions on vessels).
  • Taking a leading role in supporting seafarer welfare through the Australian Seafarers’ Welfare Council.


The Australian Seafarers’ Welfare Council

The MLC requires that signatory countries establish welfare boards at the port, regional and national level to support seafarer welfare. 

In Australia, the Australian Seafarers’ Welfare Council (ASWC) was established to ensure the adequacy of existing seafarer welfare facilities and to assist in coordination of port/regional welfare committees. 

While AMSA has the legislative authority to enforce vessel owners and operators’ obligations under the MLC, the ASWC aims to promote seafarer welfare issues and the services available in Australian ports to support and protect seafarers.

ASWC was established to ensure a continuous focus on a national standard in the provision of welfare services for all seafarers visiting Australian ports. The ASCW meet on a quarterly basis to encourage set-up and ensure that Port Welfare Committees are well coordinated to work together to resolve any seafarer welfare issues at their port.

AMSA plays a leadership (chairperson and secretariat) role in the work that ASWC aims to achieve, namely to:

  • Provide leadership in the implementation of Australia’s obligations to seafarers under the MLC.
  • Assist in the establishment of a national network of seafarer support arrangements.
  • Promote, encourage and support the delivery of seafarer welfare services at Australian ports.

These aims are encompassed by ASWC’s Strategic Goals listed in Table 1 below. 

Table 1 – ASWC strategic goals and progress for 2020.
Strategic Goals What we will do Progress against the strategic goals for 2020
Provide leadership in the implementation of Australia's obligations to seafarers under the MLC

Represent Australia internationally on seafarer welfare matters.

Promote awareness for ASWC, its role and vision 

Maintain contact with, and membership of, the International Seafarers'        Welfare Assistance Network (ISWAN) 

Promote awareness that supports seafarer welfare

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on travel. This reduced the ability for ASWC to represent Australia on welfare matters. 

In 2020 ASWC continued to promote its work through news items on its website at News - Australian Seafarers' Welfare Council and through social media 

ASWC continues to work closely with ISWAN in promoting seafarer welfare matters. In 2020 we posted a number of news items on the ASWC website promoting ISWAN seafarer welfare guidance material. 

In 2020 AMSA organised a seafarer mental heath campaign to share guidance and resources on mental health.

In 2020 we published the first MLC annual report.

Issue 11 of the AMSA Safety Bulletin focusing on fire prevention on vessels was published on 15 March 2020.

Issue 12 of the AMSA Safety Bulletin focusing on seafarer mental health was published on 15 September 2020.

Mental health guidance material for seafarers during COVID-19 was published on the AMSA website in July 2020. 

Supported research as part of an international research team to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on seafarers. In 2020 we organised a webinar bringing international researchers and professionals to talk about the effect of COVID-19 on seafarers.

Assist in the establishment of a national network of seafarer support arrangements Encourage, support and guide the establishment of Port Welfare Committees
Facilitate and promote a network of communication and cooperation between Port Welfare Committees

There are now 12 Port Welfare Committees (PWC) located in major ports around Australia. 

In 2020 ASWC supported the set-up of the PWC in Bunbury, Western Australia.

In 2020 ASCW commenced facilitating and promoting a network of communication and cooperation between PWCs through invitations to ASWC meetings to discuss updates and areas of concerns. This is an ongoing commitment.

A PCW national forum planned for 2020 had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is planned for late 2021. 

Promote, encourage and support the delivery of seafarer welfare services at Australian ports 

Identify seafarer needs and future welfare requirements in line with shipping and crew trends

Promote the need for seafarers to be treated as valued and respected members of our port communities 

Assist in investigating ongoing funding opportunities that may assist in providing sustainable seafarer welfare services

Continue to work with PWCs and Port Authorities to facilitate wifi access for seafarers in port welfare centres and in ports around Australia. 

Supported the distribution of 6000 care packs given to vessels during the period 1 March to 31 August 2020. 

Supported the “Chat to a Chaplain” service which has been successful in getting seafarers to reach out.

Promoted localised, consistent approach to a funding model (i.e. Gladstone, Fremantle) to fund seafarer welfare facilities/services when in port. 

Seafarer Welfare Campaign

The work of seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic has been critical to ensure the global supply chain of essential goods and equipment continues to operate unhindered. But this has not been without challenges with seafarers work and life on board and repatriation heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To support seafarer welfare and promulgate awareness on fatigue and mental health, AMSA ran a campaign focusing on mental health at sea. The campaign included sharing guidance and resources on seafarer mental health. It also raised awareness of AMSA’s strong commitment to seafarer welfare and reinforced the importance of looking after the mental health of seafarers at all levels in the maritime industry. 

The safety campaign was held between 25 June and 10 December 2020 and involved:

  • A “Looking after yourself at sea” social media campaign, that covered themes such as talking about your feelings, staying active, staying in touch with family and friends, fatigue, and seeking help and support. This series reached 34,000 users;
  • The Maritime Safety Awareness Bulletin #12– Managing mental health at sea, which provides information on supporting crew and identifying signs of possible mental health problems. This bulletin reached 3012 recipients (38% based internationally) and achieved a 14% increase in subscriptions to future Maritime Safety Awareness Bulletins; and
  • Collaborative webinars that presented the results of an international research survey into the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on international seafarers. This involved a panel including AMSA’s Dr Michelle Grech. The webinar received 248 registrations with a total of 52 attendees. This is the largest participant rate AMSA has received for any webinar to date.  

Our social media campaign (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) achieved a reach of 947,637 viewers and generated 16,313 clicks to the AMSA web page.

Your wellbeing and health are important

Seafarers in orange suits standing together

Research activity

In 2020 AMSA in conjunction with an international research team released a report following a research survey regarding the effects of Covid-19 on seafarers. The effects of the pandemic, as understood from the perspective of the seafarers in this study, reveal a number of shortfalls and challenges experienced by seafarers onboard international commercial vessels. In particular, responses to several questions (i.e. questions on the effects of the pandemic, main challenges and need for more support) highlighted crew changes as a key challenge. 

In their comments, respondents referred to cancellations of crew changes, uncertainty (especially around crew change dates) as well as difficulties related to the journey to/from the ship due to, among other things, flight cancellations, border closures, and visa and quarantine requirements. 

Cancellations and delays of crew changes led to extended time (in some cases up to 18 months and more) on board. Other challenges included ship-shore interactions, getting supplies, the social and work situation on board, challenges related to employment (pay, contracts, job insecurity) as well as concerns about the health and financial situation of seafarers’ families at home. In addition, around half of the respondents experienced an increase in workload when compared to the workload prior to the pandemic.

View the full report and webinar.

Profile of Vessel arrivals in Australia – 2020

Figure 1: Profile of vessel arrivals in Australia – 2020

Figure 1. Foreign vessel arrivals by vessel type

Vessel arrivals to each State – 2020

Figure 2: Foreign vessel arrivals to each State in 2020 – excluding Norfolk Island and Christmas Island

Figure 2. Foreign vessel arrivals to each State – excluding Norfolk Island and Christmas Island

Vessel arrivals by flag State - 2020

Twenty-one percent (21%) of all vessels arriving in Australia are registered in Panama. This is followed by Liberia (14%), Hong Kong, China (13%), Singapore (11%), Marshall Islands (10%), Bahamas, Malta and Japan.

Figure 3: Top ten foreign vessel arrivals by Flag State

Figure 3. Top 10 foreign vessel arrivals by flag State