What are Work Hours and Rest Hours in Maritime Law?

As per the MLC 2006, work hours are defined as the number of hours for which a seafarer has to be on duty on a ship or be at the service of a superior outside the crew quarters. Hours outside the work hours are known as hours of rest. According to maritime law, these hours of rest do not include the short breaks taken intermittently.

Work and rest hours as per MLC 2006 and the ILO Maritime Convention can be summarized as:

  • 8 hours per day under normal conditions, with 1 day as a rest day
  • A maximum of 72 hours in any 7-day period
  • A maximum of 14 hours in a 24-hour period
  • Minimum 10 hours of rest in any period of 24-hours
  • Minimum 77 hours of rest in any 7-day period

These conditions need to be followed for seafarers, except in emergency conditions if the master of the ship requires the services of a seafarer in maintaining the safety of the ship, or in situations of vessel distress.

How Much Rest Hours is Required for a Person Working on a Ship?

According to the MLC (Maritime Labour Convention) 2006, the minimum hours of rest for seafarers working on a ship should be:

  • 10 hours in a period of 24 hours – This can be divided into no more than 2 periods. One of these periods has to be at least 6 hours in length. There should be no more than 14 hours of gap between 2 consecutive hours of rest.
  • 77 hours in a 7-day period

Also, records of a seafarer’s daily hours of rest need to be maintained, to allow documentary evidence of compliance, and to record any breach of requirements as per maritime law.

How important is Proper Rest Period for Seafarers?

Proper rest and sleep are important for the human body to perform all functions properly. This applies to seafarers as well, especially because they are involved in mentally and physically demanding work. They often face dangerous situations at sea or need to work for extended hours under certain circumstances.

Lack of proper rest and sleep can lead to extreme fatigue for crew members, which can result in accidents. These can range from minor and major fires to personal injuries and collisions.

The MLC (Maritime Law Convention) 2006 stipulates the minimum work and hours of rest for seafarers to protect their well-being and prevent the loss of life and property at sea. Ships need to maintain records of seafarers’ daily hours of rest and work, and get these audited to remain compliant with maritime law.

What are the Challenges Faced by Shipping Companies in Adhering to MLC 2006 Regulations for Rest Hours?

Shipping companies must comply with the rest hours regulations put forth by MLC 2006. The main challenges faced are:

  • Logging the daily hours of work and rest of each seafarer
  • Ensuring compliance with intricate rules and their exceptions
  • Remaining compliant despite handling emergency situations
  • Handling short breaks and mealtimes
  • Ensuring compliance in watchkeeping ships
  • Time adjustments during the ship’s voyage
  • Handling the International Date Line (IDL) crossing
  • Calculating overtime and integrating this with payroll
  • Identifying crew members who can be assigned tasks without violating the act
  • Maintaining details for audits
  • Shore offices having a bird’s eye view of compliance status on all ships
  • Quick view of NCs (non-conformities)

How Long Can a Seafarer Work on a Ship?

Particular sections of the MLC 2006, mainly Regulation 2.4 – Entitlement to Leave and Regulation 2.4 – Repatriation, mention the maximum period for which a seafarer can continuously work on a ship.

As per Standard A2.5.2, of the Regulation 2.5, the maximum duration of seafarers’ service periods onboard should be less than 12 months, following which they are entitled to repatriation. The precise modes of repatriation and the destinations for the same have to be planned by shipowners, who are required to pay the expenses too.

Apart from this, the MLC 2006 mentions the work hours for seafarers, which are:

  • 8 hours a day under normal circumstances, with 1 day as a rest day
  • A maximum of 14 hours in any 24-hour timeframe
  • A maximum of 72 hours in any 7-day timeframe
  • Minimum of 10 hours of rest in any 24-hours timeframe.

The minimum rest hours for seafarers as per MLC 2006 are:

  • A minimum of 10 hours in any 24-hour timeframe
  • A minimum of 77 hours in any 7-day timeframe
  • The hours of rest can be divided into two periods, one of which has to be at least 6 hours long.

What is Maritime Fatigue on Ships?

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) defines fatigue as “a reduction in physical and/or mental capability as the result of physical, mental or emotional exertion, which may impair nearly all physical abilities including: strength; speed; reaction time; decision making; or balance.

This is a common problem in all 24-hour-a-day occupations, which include the maritime industry. The crew is often engaged in physically and mentally draining activities, and dangerous situations onboard for prolonged hours, which can cause anxiety and fatigue. Lack of proper sleep further exacerbates these issues. This results in impaired performance, low focus and alertness, which can lead to fatal accidents.

This is why the IMO, along with the International Labor Organization, has dictated specific rest hours for seafarers. As per the Maritime Law Convention (MLC 2006) and STCW 2010, shipping companies are mandated to provide stipulated rest hours to the crew and also take care of their healthcare needs. Ships have to log crew members’ work and rest hours, which need to be audited by recognized authorities.

How Do You Mitigate Fatigue Onboard?

It is essential to be compliant with the STCW 2010 code related to proper rest hours for seafarers, in order to help them remain alert, physically fit, and productive. Apart from that, shipowners and shipmasters need to ensure that crew members:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Take scheduled breaks
  • Eat regular, well-balanced meals
  • Deploy rested crew to cover for those who traveled long hours to come onboard
  • Schedule drills in such a way to minimize the disruption of rest hours

In the event a shipmaster has to suspend rest hours due to vessel distress and emergencies, seafarers need to be allowed proper rest once the situation returns to normal.

Under What Condition Can a Seafarer Be Asked to Work Longer Without Sufficient Hours of Rest?

In the event that a ship is under distress due to reasons like harsh weather, onboard security breach, and the malfunctioning of a ship part, the shipmaster has the right to suspend the scheduled rest hours for seafarers. This is continued till the vessel conditions returns to normal.

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