Health and safety

Belgium drops minimum safe manning requirements as ship inspections cease

19 March 2020

The Belgian Maritime Inspectorate (BMI) has taken the unprecedented step to dispense with minimum safe manning requirements under Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a note to shipowners, shipping companies and ship managers, BMI advisor-general Bart Heylbroeck said: ‘In case a crew member is required to depart a vessel due to the virus and the ship owner/operator is unable to immediately replace them, dispensations to Safe Manning Document may be considered on a case by case basis. Each request should be supported by risk assessment from the company.’

In response to national measures taken to combat Covid-19, BMI from March 18 has also ceased all surveys, inspections and audits of ships flying the Belgian flag and companies operating ships under the Belgian flag, until further notice.  

BMI further said it would take several actions including:

Seafarer Employment Agreements

  • Authorise the extension of the Seafarer Employment Agreements (SEAs) beyond the maximum duration, subject to the consent of the seafarer(s) and subject to the agreement between the Belgian Shipowner Association and the representative organisations of seafarers, through the terms and conditions established in the applicable collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). The exceptional conditions may include the impossibility for repatriation (quarantine, lack of transport, government restrictions for disembarkation…)

Crew certification 

  • Certificates of competency (COC) may be renewed by a COC valid for up to six months, in the case required training (refreshers) could not be attended/completed, due to the measures imposed by Covid-19. This includes in case the training could not be organised or when the COC expires due to quarantine measures or extended contract period
  • On application of a certificate of recognition, BMI will issue automatically an application for recognition (CRA) valid for three months
  • Seafarers may continue serving on board a Belgian flagged ship up to three months (extendible) after the expiry date of the medical fitness certificate, in case it is not possible to obtain a medical certificate
  • BMI will provide and accept electronic copies of crew certificates for the time Covid-19 measures are in place

BMI would also consider extending statutory certification of ships flying the Belgian flag by issuing a dispensation or short-term certificates.

Nautilus Members who are concerned or are experiencing difficulties related to the coronavirus outbreak are advised to contact their industrial organiser for assistance.