Seafarers' Identity Documents

In February 2016, ICS co-ordinated maritime employers in Geneva at an ILO meeting which sought to overcome the obstacles to the widespread ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 185, the Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention (Revised), which was adopted as part of the response to the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001.

Before 2001, there was a general recognition by governments that seafarers who had been confined at sea, perhaps for several weeks, should be permitted to come ashore with minimal hindrance. Seafarers were normally permitted to enter the territory of the many countries they visited, for the purpose of taking shore leave or to travel to their vessel, without needing to apply for a personal visa in advance, provided that they held a seafarer’s identity document. But in many countries this attitude has come to an end, exacerbated by concerns about illegal immigration.

ILO 185 requires ratifying nations to issue resident seafarers with Seafarers’ Identity Documents (SIDs) and to facilitate the entry of foreign seafarers holding SIDs (conforming to an agreed format) into their territory for the purposes of shore leave, transfer and transit. However, since its adoption in 2003, the ILO Convention has failed to achieve widespread implementation, in large part because the technical standards adopted have been superseded by new technologies.

With support from ICS, the ILO meeting agreed amendments to the technical Annexes of the Convention, establishing that SIDs should conform to the mandatory requirements for other electronic machine-readable travel documents already in use such as ePassports. These amendments are expected to enter into force in 2017.

If ILO 185 can be ratified and implemented more widely this could eventually bring about improvements to the welfare of seafarers while also addressing the legitimate security concerns of governments. But it remains to be seen whether nations such as the United States will ever ratify this important ILO Convention.

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