Opinion: It’s About Time the U.S. Ratifies MLC, 2006

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February 21, 2020
File Photo: Kim M. Bouchard. Credit: MarineTraffic.com/Duncan Williams

By Captain William Doherty – The recent tragic chain of events regarding the financial irresponsibility of the owners of one the largest U.S. coastwise petroleum carriers, Bouchard Transportation Co., and in particular its owner Morton Bouchard III, whereby numerous actions have been forced upon regulatory agencies, especially the United States Coast Guard, to bring to light glaring deficiencies in safe operation of United States flagged vessels at sea.

Today, Bouchard-operated very large ocean-going tug/barge units comparable in size with large oil product tankers are stranded offshore and in ports here in the United States.

The most tragic and ongoing resultant situation is the basic “imprisonment” of crews, forced by the United States Coast Guard, to remain aboard these vessels unsupported by the vessel owner.

These crew members have not been paid since January 1, 2020, and the seafarers have been ordered by the Coast Guard to remain aboard these units for Maritime and Environmental Safety.

This is a glaring example of why the U.S. Coast Guard and our leaders’ failure to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 is the root cause of the effective “incarceration“ of these unfortunate and innocent seafarers.

Had the United States ratified the Maritime Labor Convention and had Bouchard Transportation been required to comply with the MLC, these vessels would not have been permitted to sail without the “Owners” certified evidence of a “Maritime Labor Convention Certificate of Financial Responsibly” (MLC-COFR), ensuring adequate funding available to repatriate ALL crew members in the event of financial or other abandonment.

Sadly, a significant amount of the U.S.-flagged ocean-going ships and vessels have for decades “slipped under the radar” for compliance with International Maritime Organization (IMO) “seafarer protective” conventions, regulations and orders.

These “loopholes” allow U.S.-flag domestic service vessel operators to operate their fleets without compliance with international regulations contained in International Safety Management (ISM), the Maritime Labor Convention, and several other protective IMO mandates.

The Bouchard Transportation debacle is proof positive that it’s time to close these loopholes and bring our U.S.-flagged vessels, operating both internationally and domestically, under ALL international mandates.

That is unless our American Seafarers aren’t worth the protections afforded to every other seafarer around the world.

Captain William H. Doherty is a a licensed US Coast Guard Master Mariner of unlimited tonnage.

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