MLC and STCW Requirement for Rest Hours for Seafarers

It is only recently that the shipping industry has started thinking consciously about rest hours for seafarers. Traditionally, crew fatigue was disregarded as a valid reason for human error. It was often believed that with professionalism and will power, crew fatigue could be prevented. More recently, however, several marine casualties have been linked to the temporary loss of zest; fatigue. The notorious oil spill of Exxon Valdez and the Shen Neng 1 grounding are testimony to the fact that proper rest hours for seafarers is a prerequisite for marine safety.

Rest Hours for Seafarers: What the Regulations Demand

The ILO Convention (No. 180) and STCW 95 had almost similar requirements but there has been further convergence on the requirements after MLC 2006 and STCW 2012. The rules are often misinterpreted and it is essential to understand them in simple words as follows:

  • At any point in time if a seafarer is working he should be well rested. This is primarily defined by how much rest he has received in the 24 hours preceding the current time (if he is not resting).
  • In the above defined 24 hour period he should have received at least 10 hours of rest.
  • The 10 hours of rest should be divided into a maximum of 2 periods. We all know giving him 10 periods of 1 hour rest and making him work the alternate hours would be more punishment than rest!
  • At least one of the two periods of rest should be 6 hours – this is what gets him some time to sleep
  • An additional point to keep in mind is that the maximum difference between consecutive periods of rest cannot be more than 14 hours
  • Additional rules are put in place to mark how much rest is required in a week. This is fixed at 77 hours in a week. A thought to keep in mind here is that MLC Work regime becomes much more stringent as it requires a maximum of 72 hours of work in a week. Most of our customers use the MLC Rest regime for this very reason, however, the Japanese flag mandates MLC Work regime leaving limited choice with the ship owner or ship manager.

The paper necessitates that periods of rest may not be marred by lifeboat drills, musters and other activities prescribed by national laws. This will prevent unnecessary crew fatigue. The ILO has called for the regulations on the rest hours for seafarers to be included in the planning of the work aboard a ship.

In case a seafarer has had to prolong hours of duty due to unattended machinery space, an equal, compensatory period of rest will have to be granted. However, such situations have to be one-in-many and unforeseen. This is in the wake of the realization that manning rules are not to be compromised.  The paper specifies regulations on manning; the ship is to be sufficiently manned at all times, without any breach of the regulations related to rest hours for seafarers.

Maritime software advancement has allowed for smooth compliance to all the regulations related to rest hours for seafarers. Technology allows the recording of the hours of rest and storing them electronically, facilitating an automated system for calculating and deciding other time slabs. Otherwise too, this shall allow for monitoring provisions. Also, records will ensure that all discrepancies in the system and the resulting complaints are registered for redressal by competent authorities.

Proper Rest Hours for Seafarers Improves Performance

Rest becomes all the more imperative when one acknowledges the perils of seafaring and resulting ailments. Seamen are prone to conditions like lack of sleep, sea-sickness, excessive workload, finally culminating into crew fatigue. Ship owners are responsible for a proper balancing of the hours of work and those of rest for those aboard their ship. The ship owners and the masters are expected to undertake a system strictly in compliance with the regulations. This would ultimately result in shipping that is much safer and efficient.