Medical certificates, employment contracts, resting times and hygiene in the galley. These are just a few of the items that must be checked prior to MLC certification. But, like most other ships sailing under the Swedish flag, M/S Eckerö passes the inspection without any major problems.
The inspector from the Swedish Transport Agency, Mikael Andersson, sits down in the master’s office together with the assistant marine HR manager, the steward and the master. He explains how today’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) inspection will take place.
”A lot of this is about checking paperwork. I want to see that you have all the documents and procedures well organised, then I would like to walk around and look over the ship, too.”
The master, Lars Nordström, nods.
”No problem, say what you want and we’ll arrange it. I will have to leave you for a while during departure, but I will take out some of the papers now and we can go through the rest later. The SAM file is perhaps a good place to start,” he says, and takes out the file where the documentation of the ship’s systematic work environment measures is summarised and hands it over to the inspector.
Mikael takes it at the same time as he reads out other documents he needs to check. They include everything from employment contracts and medical certificates to P&I insurance.
”Then I would like to look over a number of qualifications too, those of officers, crew and cooks. We make spot checks,” he explains. ”If things are not right we go further and check to see if it is just an isolated error or if there is a pattern.”
While the master goes out onto the bridge, Mikael continues to inspect the documents using the checklist he has with him. A total of 14 items must be checked and approved for a certificate to be issued.
”So, what would you do if a 17-year-old waitress comes on board?” asks Mikael and turns to the assistant marine HR manager, Inger Eriksson, and the steward, Ulrika Myrtner.
”We have an age limit of 18,” says Ulrika, ”so it is out of the question.”
”And what about a 16-year-old cadet?”
”We don’t take on any minors at all,” says Inger. ”We have decided on an age limit of 18 for everyone. That means that the personnel are more useful and it reduces the risk of mistakes.”
”Well, it’s up to you to decide what you want to do,” says Mikael. ”The minimum age under the convention is 16, with certain restrictions for those who are under the age of 18, including night work.”
Inger was previously a steward on Birka. In January she started at the Shipping Company Eckerö’s office in Mariehamn and was put in charge of the MLC certification of all the company’s ships: seven RORO vessels, the ferry Finnlandia in the Gulf of Finland, and Birka and Eckerö. The company has ships under both Swedish and Finnish flags, and there is some difference in how the two countries chose to handle the MLC, says Inger.
Different in Sweden and Finland
”In Finland the Worker Protection Administration [equivalent to the Swedish Work Environment Authority] runs the inspections, while the transport department issues the certificate itself. Even though they are essentially the same rules that apply, there is a little more focus on the work environment in Finland.
So far the inspections have gone well, she says.
”There was only one of our Finnish flagged ships that had some small faults. It was purchased from Italy a few years ago and there was a protective handrail missing, the lighting in the cabins was not good enough and a few other items needed attention. But we got a list of measures to take, we went through it and things are now fixed.”
Mikael confirms the situation that Inger describes. He says that he rarely find any serious deficiencies during the inspections.
”We have been on board a lot of ships now, and on the whole the Swedish flagged fleet looks pretty good.”
M/S Eckerö leaves Grisslehamn and the course is set for Åland. After a while the master returns and joins the small group of people in his office. Prior to this visit the shipping company sent a report to Mikael showing how they handle the requirements of the convention and both parties are well prepared.
”When doing an inspection I usually spend about six hours on preparation and about the same time on board. But it also depends on how well-run the ship is. Things are really well organised here so it takes less time,” says Mikael.
When the papers in the master’s office have been examined, the inspection continues on the ship. Outside the canteen Ulrika stops and points to a list on the wall.
”If there is anyone who has a food allergy or is vegetarian, they tick a box here and write down how long they will be on board. Then the cook comes out and looks at the list so that he knows what he should prepare. It works very well,” she says.
The inspection continues in the ship’s office inside the reception area on deck five. The crew purser, Birgitta Jokinini, helps to take out the qualifications of the crew and cooks and their medical certificates, which Mikael has asked to see. The chief housekeeper, Pia, comes over with lists showing the cabin inspections.
”What happens about any faults you find in the cabins?” wonders Mikael.
”We write them down in here,” says Pia and hands over a red folder. ”Then we pass on a paper to the repairman with a list of what needs to be fixed.”
”Good, then I’m satisfied,” says Mikael and returns the folder to Pia.
The last stop is with the chef, Tomas Berlin, in his office next to the galley. He explains that the condition of fridges, freezers and other spaces in the department are checked each week and shows the agreements and action plans that are used in the event of pests, for example.
When the whole inspection is completed, it only remains to print an official acknowledgement. It is put up on a bulkhead, clearly visible for all the crew to see. The idea is that everyone should be aware of any faults and deficiencies noticed by the authority. The acknowledgement also acts as a guarantee that the ship meets the requirements of the convention pending the certificate that is issued by the Stockholm office of the Transport Agency. When Mikael has signed the inspection papers, it is Lars Nordström’s turn to sign. He says that he is satisfied with the day’s work.
”I was not worried about the inspection. You know about faults and shortcomings on your ship, and we do not have that sort of serious problem. Of course, something unexpected could turn up, but in that case you just have to deal with it.”