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The Maritime Labour Convention: Ensuring medical care at sea

As our more frequent readers are well aware, not all seafaring vessels have the ability to stop at a port or request medical assistance from a doctor on land at the drop of a hat. Many vessels are out at sea for days, weeks or even months at a time. But as you know, medical emergencies can happen at anytime, meaning ship operators need to be prepared for these worst case scenarios.

Thanks to the Maritime Labour Convention, this is possible. For those of our readers who do not know, the MLC established an important international agreement that “establishes comprehensive minimum requirements for working conditions of seafarers.” From working conditions to recreational facilities, the MLC also addresses safety on seafaring vessels, including medical care standards.

Under MLC Regulation 4.1, vessel owners must provide an adequate level of health protection and medical care to workers on board their ships, including dental care. It’s worth noting however, that this standard varies depending on the size of the vessel’s crew and its time at sea. Depending on these factors, a ship owner may be required to establish a hospital or medical care facility onboard that is equipped with certain pieces of medical equipment.

Regardless of whether a ship has the required medical facility, though, vessel owners are “responsible for sick and injured seafarers in accordance with the general maritime law remedy of Maintenance and

Cure,” meaning a ship owner is responsible for providing medical care at no cost to the injured seaman.

Whether a ship operates domestically or internationally, vessel workers can rest assured that they will have access to comparable medical care on board their vessel to what they would receive on land. If the ship owner violates this law, legal action may be necessary.

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