In June 2023, the Professional Yachting Association (PYA) Welfare Group held a webinar with numerous Flag State representatives to introduce the role of flag, what they do, and when and how to contact them.
Here, we breakdown what the webinar covered and why it’s important to understand the role of Flag State as a yacht crew member.
“The PYA Welfare Group aims to educate, support & guide yacht crew ensuring their well-being is safeguarded. Empowering crew with knowledge to protect their rights, and to steer them in the right direction for legal and professional assistance.”
What is the role of Flag State in the overall structure of the vessel?
There are two authorities which look after large yachts.
While a classification society handles the structural side – ensuring that the nuts and bolts are in good condition – the Flag State has the authority and responsibility to enforce regulations over vessels registered under its flag, including those relating to inspection, certification, and issuance of safety and pollution prevention documents.
They lay out regulations which the vessel has to comply with.
“Flag States are not a court of law, nor are they police officers. They are neutral parties. They create and regulate the maritime regulations, and regulations of the MLC”
What is the Shipping Master?
In general, the Shipping Master works to improve the crew operational side of matters, and crew recruitment welfare. Deals with all crew welfare issues including complaints, working hours, medical expenses, wage disputes, etc. Anyone on a privately registered vessel can reach out to them, too. On MLC vessels, there is a requirement to have an onboard complaint procedure available to all crew that should give the appropriate contact details. There is also a section on a Flag State’s website which you can complain directly through. Non-MLC vessel crew members who don’t have this sort of procedure can access the website.
What if an incident of assault happens at sea?
Once an incident is reported, a series of events are triggered. Initially, separating involved parties is important until the vessel can stop at the next port. Since Flag State provides nationality to the vessel, the laws that apply onboard are national laws and international regulations. If something happens while in the waters of another country, local jurisdiction takes over.
However, if it is in international waters, national laws apply. Legal counsel and investigatory departments might become involved, too.
At what stage does one contact a Flag State as a crew member?
Even if it is a minor issue, get in touch. Better to report something than allow something to escalate. Any and every complaint is received.
What’s the procedure when a crew member contacts a Flag State with a complaint?
This depends on the gravity of the situation, but a complaint is always reported and logged and followed up. All complaints are treated in confidence. As much info as possible is asked for. If an informal resolution isn’t found, then the Flag State representative contacts the appropriate person for a mediation process. If that fails, the shipping master makes a binding decision.
How many complaints do they receive a year?
One Flag State representative reported that there were 168 complaints in the previous year – a significant decrease. Most were wage disputes.
What’s the average response time?
As soon as possible, but a maximum of two working days. There is a duty officer available, too.
How should crew compile evidence?
The more evidence, the more assistance you will get. Documentary evidence is crucial. As for bullying, one has to analyse a case on an individual basis. Sometimes, a situation can be verified by others through witnesses and personal logs.
However, Flag States are not a court of law, nor are they police officers. They are neutral parties. They create and regulate the maritime regulations, and regulations of the MLC. You will be asked if you’ve notified your designated person ashore.
Flag Responsibilities For Different Types Of Yachts
Privately-registered yachts can choose to abide by MLC standards, but it is not a requirement that they do. If a private yacht under 24m wished to work on a commerical basis, then it would have to comply with the small commercial vessels code.
Commercially-registered yachts are subject to MLC inspections.
It is possible to have a pleasure vessel and choose to meet the standard of MLC and have a voluntary inspection. The Merchant Shipping Act also applies to private yachts so that it covers crew onboard.
Watch the webinar in full below:
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