ILO Conference Establishes New Convention on Seafarers' Identity Documents

Thursday, June 19, 2003
The 91st annual Conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) has adopted a new Convention on Seafarers' Identity Documents which replaces ILO Convention No.108 (1958). It establishes a more rigorous identity regime for seafarers with the aim of developing effective security from terrorism and ensuring that the world's 1.2 million seafarers will be given the freedom of movement necessary for their well-being and for their professional activities and, in general, to facilitate international commerce. The Convention sets out the basic parameters and allows the details in its annexes, like the precise form of the identity document (ID), to be easily adapted subsequently to keep up with technological developments. A major feature of the new ID, on which full agreement was reached, will be a biometric template based on a fingerprint. A Resolution accompanying the Convention requests the ILO Director-General to take urgent measures for the development of a "global inter-operable standard for the biometric, particularly in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)." It also makes provision for the facilitation of shore leave and transit and transfer of seafarers, including the exemption from holding a visa for seafarers taking shore leave. To avoid the risk of an ID being issued to the wrong person, the Convention also requires ratifying member States to maintain a proper database available for international consultation by authorized officials and to have and observe adequate procedures for the issuance of IDs. Those procedures, which cover not only the security aspects but also the necessary safeguards for individual rights, including data protection, will be subject to transparent procedures for international oversight. With the heightened concerns about port security since the 9/11 attacks, a new seafarers' identity document will be a substantial contribution to international security by helping to ensure that the identity of seafarers in ports, airports and aboard ships can be positively established through the most modern means available.

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