The ILO formulates international labor standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations setting minimum standards of basic labor rights: freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labor, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other standards regulating conditions across the entire spectrum of work related issues.
One item that the ILO has under its wing is Seafarer Identification. Since seafarers travel around the world and don’t always know where they are going, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the right visa before arriving at a port. This is where the ILO comes in, with a Convention that sets the rules for seafarer identification to permit the movement of seafarers with limited restrictions/visa issues.
The old Convention was passed in 1958, and after the terror attacks of September 11, it was realized that an updated convention was needed. So in the summer of 2003 the new Convention (Number 185) was adopted and it came into force on 9 February 2005. There is just one small problem, the US does not like the new Convention. Specifically, they don’t like the following clause in the Convention:
4. Each Member for which this Convention is in force shall, in the shortest possible time, and unless clear grounds exist for doubting the authenticity of the seafarers' identity document, permit the entry into its territory of a seafarer holding a valid seafarer's identity document, when entry is requested for temporary shore leave while the ship is in port.
6. For the purpose of shore leave seafarers shall not be required to hold a visa. Any Member which is not in a position to fully implement this requirement shall ensure that its laws and regulations or practice provide arrangements that are substantially equivalent.
I have been told that those negotiating this Convention were warned by the US not to include the visa clause but it was included anyway by representatives of the seafarers, who, in the way the ILO is set up, have a say in the negotiations. The joke is that the new convention was created for the US, and now the US will not sign it. Since they have not signed it, other countries are not willing to commit to it. After all, at least 60% of global shipping involves the US. Without the US, this convention will have a hard time gaining acceptance.
Let’s look at who has ratified this convention:
Do you think there is a problem here? If the US signs up, then (unless they can prove that the seafarer is a National Security threat) the US will have to permit all seafarers with a valid seafarer ID entry into the US. One of the four countries to ratify this Convention is in the Middle East. Another is Nigeria, which has problems preventing their own citizens from kidnapping/attacking foreigners working in their own oil fields. They also have also managed to let the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, escape from their ‘protective custody’. Mr. Taylor is wanted for crimes against humanity and is the only person to be charged with war crimes while a serving head of state other than Molosovich.
The latest country to ratify this Convention was Hungary which ratified the Convention in March, 2005. (So there have been no new ratifications in the last year.) If the US ratifies this Convention, then they would be pushed to accept foreigners from all other countries that also ratify this Convention. That includes countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both countries are already on the International Maritime Organization’ ‘White List.’
The ILO has been trying to get the US to commit to ratification of this convention with little success so far. I suspect that this Convention is all but dead, taking into account the reaction of congress in the DP World Port ownership issue. Imagine the furor in congress and the public if it is suggested that they sign up to an international convention that will result in seafarers from around the world (including North Korea and Iran) into the country without proper due diligence.
C185 Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003 - ILO