The UK has ratified the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) making it the 41st state to do so. The ratification of the Convention, now extended to two of the UK's 13 flag states – Isle of Man and Gibraltar – means the MLC will be enforced in the UK from August 2014 - a year later than its international enforcement.

The Red Ensign Group numbers 13 flags including the UK and its crown dependencies. Credit: Stuart Pearce.
The delay by one of the biggest maritime nations - 50 per cent of the superyacht fleet are said to be registered to Red Ensign flags – raises questions over how Port State Control will view UK flagged vessels from August this year as they prepare for their later deadline and whether they will be subject to delays and detainment at Port. Moreover, yachts flying the flag of a state that has not ratified the Convention, when in the port of a state that has ratified, will be subject to the same MLC inspections.

Although the UK is now a ratifying state, it is still not entirely clear how yachts registered with Red Ensign flags yet to receive the UK's approval will fare at Port state when they cannot produce a ready certificate of MLC compliance.

"Until all the relevant jurisdictions have passed into law the appropriate legislation, those relevant flag states are not going to be able to issue certificates of compliance. So, potentially a jurisdiction could look at it, and say, 'the UK has ratified and it's just the mechanics of getting legislation in,'" said Peter Roser, senior associate at Clyde & Co. "It may attract closer attention, but it may not do. It's more likely to raise eyebrows," he added.

"We are disappointed that the government is way behind less prominent maritime nations on this important move.” - Bob Crow.

The Cayman Islands, one of the remaining 11 flags to get the UK's approval, says that there will be no problems, however, in the interim: “The Cayman Islands has been implementing the MLC fully into its national legislation, which we expect to formally publish shortly. Therefore, we do not anticipate any negative impact on our ships or operators,” read a statement.
What has emerged from the slow ratification is criticism of the MCA - the UK government agency responsible for the form of the UK legislation enacting the MLC.
“The MCA’s interpretations of conventions don’t always agree with everyone else’s view,” commented a UK-based yacht manager. "There still seems to be some prevarication in what their policies actually are. And there’s a lack of clarity more than anything else."

Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of Nautilus, has also said the UK’s hold up on MLC was “embarrassing” and Britain's RMT Union (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) was critical this week:

"RMT welcomes ratification by the UK of this convention albeit we are disappointed that the government is way behind less prominent maritime nations on this important move,” said RMT General Secretary, Bob Crow.