The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) first established uniform minimum international standards for seafarers in 1978. The Manila Amendments to STCW were adopted on June 25, 2010, and entered into force on Jan. 1, 2012. These amendments included important changes relating to required rest periods for seafarers, which were intended to alleviate the danger to safe navigation posed by fatigue of seafarers
The revised rest period requirements apply to all persons who are assigned duty as an officer in charge of a navigational watch or as a rating forming part of a navigational watch and to those whose duties involve designated safety, prevention of pollution and security duties. The revised rest period requirements state that such persons shall be provided with a rest period of not less than 10 hours in any 24-hour period and 77 hours of rest in any seven-day period. The hours of rest may be divided into no more than two periods, one of which shall be at least six hours in length, and the intervals between consecutive periods of rest shall not exceed 14 hours. Records of daily hours of rest of seafarers shall be maintained in a standardized format to allow for monitoring and verification of compliance with rest period requirements.
The rest period requirements need not be adhered to in the case of an emergency. The master may require a seafarer to perform any hours of work necessary for the immediate safety of the ship, persons or cargo on board, or for the purpose of giving assistance to other ships or persons in distress at sea, provided that the seafarer is allowed an adequate period of rest as soon as practicable after the normal situation has been restored. Furthermore, certain limited exceptions from the required daily and weekly rest periods are provided for occasions when crew’s rest periods are interrupted due to an unplanned call out because of unforeseen overriding operational concerns. However, it is inappropriate to apply these exceptions to routine tasks or regularly scheduled port evolutions, which can be planned for in advance.
The ever-expanding operational, managerial and administrative duties of management level officers, particularly during port calls, make it difficult, if not impossible, for management level officers on many vessels to comply with the STCW rest period requirements. Failure to comply with STCW requirements can lead to varying consequences depending on where the vessel is operating. STCW enforcement is dependent upon individual signatory countries. Vessel owner/operators face the possibility of fines and vessel detentions should port state or flag state control determine that a vessel is not in compliance with STCW rest period requirements. However, it remains to be seen the extent to which various countries intend to enforce the rest period requirements.
In the United States, the Coast Guard has issued interim guidance in the form of a Notice of Policy published in the Federal Register acknowledging the changes to STCW and advising that implementation of these changes in the U.S. will require regulatory changes to 46 CFR 15.1111, which have yet to be accomplished. Accordingly, the Coast Guard stated that it will not be enforcing the new rest period requirements until the revised regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations. In the interim, the Coast Guard is encouraging all U.S. vessels operating in foreign ports to fully comply with the rest period requirements to avoid potential port state control detentions.
Vessel owner/operators would be well advised to take action now in anticipation of the eventual implementation and enforcement of the revised rest period requirements in the U.S. Owner/operators should first revisit their vessel policies and procedures to ensure that they are current with respect to the newly implemented rest period requirements. Next, they should implement systems for maintaining records of daily hours of rest of seafarers to monitor and verify compliance. Owner/operators should then utilize those systems to evaluate whether vessels are able to meet the rest period requirements. In the event vessels are unable to do so, owner/operators should consider taking additional steps, such as implementing alternative watch schedules, increasing manning levels, or altering vessel schedules in order to ensure compliance. Masters would be well advised to keep a close eye on STCW rest period requirement compliance regardless of any measures taken by owners/operators, as it is the master who will likely bear ultimate responsibility in the event of a marine incident that is traceable to seafarer fatigue and a violation of STCW rest period requirements.
Samuel R. Clawson Jr. is an attorney with Clawson & Staubes LLC in Charleston, S.C., who holds an unlimited tonnage merchant marine deck officer’s license and has sailed for a major international container liner. He has lectured on topics including terrestrial navigation and rules of the road.