Standards for Seafarers in the Arctic and Maritime Labor Law Issues

(from AMSA Report 2009)


The Arctic presents a particularly hazardous work setting for those who must live and work under its extreme conditions. Both the IMO and the ILO set international standards for seafarers’ competence and their working and living conditions (Table 4.4). In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) sets standards for seafarers’ health issues such as medical fitness for duties and requirements for on-board medical supplies. Most international standards are directed to flag states and apply to ships undertaking international voyages, although some requirements are directed to countries in their capacity as maritime labor supply states.

Table 4.4 Ratification of International Marine Labor Agreements and Instruments 

The IMO addresses seafarer competency and training and other safety matters for both ship and crew through the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 (STCW) and SOLAS. The STCW is again being revised, including standards for medical fitness for duty and hours of work and rest.

Since 1920, the ILO has adopted more than 70 international conventions and recommendations addressing maritime labor conditions and standards for decent working and living conditions for seafarers, for example, hours of rest and work, accommodations, occupational safety and health, wages, food and medical care. More than 35 of these maritime labor conventions and related recommendations were consolidated in the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention, which is expected to enter into force by 2011.

IMO, ILO and WHO have not adopted specific mandatory instruments addressing Arctic or Antarctic shipping as distinct from the general requirements. Existing minimum standards apply to ships flying the flag of states party to these conventions, and flag states are responsible for enforcing them on their ships. However, they would also be enforced on non-party ships under the regime of port state control inspection. Outside STCW or the ILO standards, there do not appear to be any special requirements for minimum hours of rest or maximum hours of work and safe manning despite navigation under what could be regarded as especially hazardous conditions.

The Arctic Guidelines also make recommendations on labor issues not dealt with under SOLAS or STCW. The integrated approach adopted by the guidelines recognizes that safe operation in ice covered conditions “requires specific attention to human factors including training and operational procedures.” The guidelines recommend that crew have ice navigation and simulator training prior to entering Arctic waters, as well as exposure to ice-breaking operations and cold weather cargo handling; and that all ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters should have at least one qualified ice navigator available to continuously monitor ice conditions when the ship is underway and making way in the presence of ice. The guidelines recommend that the ice navigator provide documentary evidence of having satisfactorily completed an approved training program in ice navigation. Currently, most ice navigation programs are ad hoc and there are no uniform international training standards. Although the Arctic Guidelines are not comprehensive with respect to seafarer training for the Arctic, they are the first international instrument to emphasize the need for specialized training in ice navigation.


  •  1. Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Report 2009

Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©