Crew changes and abandonment top busy IMO Legal Committee agenda


The Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has agreed on a new item for its future work programme relating to fair treatment of seafarers detained on suspicion of committing maritime crimes. At the Committee’s meeting on 27 November and 1-2 December, it also agreed on the development of guidelines for flag and port state authorities regarding how to deal with seafarer abandonment cases.

At this week’s meeting, the Legal Committee reiterated concerns about the abandonment of seafarers. This remains a very serious issue, despite the 2017 amendments to the International Labour Organization’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006 relating to crew claims and abandonment. The Committee urged member states to take all necessary action to reduce the number of abandonment cases, in particular those exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also decided that guidelines should be developed for flag and port state authorities on how to deal with seafarer abandonment cases.

Crew changes

The Committee was informed about the work of the Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) set up by the IMO Secretary General, Kitack Lim, in response to the crew change crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. SCAT focuses on four major lines of effort, including individual cases, policy development, bilateral and multilateral engagement, and building awareness. BIMCO took the opportunity to inform the Committee about the COVID-19 crew change clause for time charter parties published in June.

Fair treatment of seafarers detained on suspicion of committing maritime crimes was also discussed and the Legal Committee agreed this is an issue that needs to be addressed by the Committee. Concrete proposals on the scope of the work were requested for the next session.

Liability limits

At its previous session, the Legal Committee agreed to develop a unified interpretation on the test for breaking the owner’s right to limit liability under the IMO limitation, liability and compensation conventions. Since then, intersessional work has been taking place to examine the intentions and objectives of the drafters of article 4 of the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, 1976 (LLMC 1976) which has been adopted in subsequent IMO liability and compensation conventions. The Committee agreed to continue the work and establish a remote intersessional group which can meet virtually before the next session.

A number of agenda items were postponed due to the meetings being held virtually with less time available. This was the case for the regulatory scoping exercise and gap analysis of conventions emanating from the Legal Committee with respect to maritime autonomous surface ships, piracy, and facilitation of entry into force of the HNS convention which deals with the transport of hazardous and noxious substances. Delegations were encouraged to submit updated papers for the next session of the Legal Committee which is planned for July 2021.

Christian Hoppe
in Copenhagen, DK


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