ILO Moves on Seafarer Safety

Tuesday, March 30, 2004
The International Labour Organization (ILO) took a major step toward strengthening security measures on the high seas and in world ports by adopting a new "biometric" identity verification system for some 1.2 million maritime workers who handle 90 per cent of the world's trade.

The new measure is essential for the implementation of the revised Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention, 2003 (No. 185) (Note 1), adopted by the International Labour Conference last June, and was approved today by the ILO Governing Body's 289th session. The new biometric standard is aimed at providing a more rigorous response to the need for increased security among seafarers in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

ILO Convention No.185 will also protect the rights of the world's 1.2 million seafarers, most of whom are from developing countries. "This new measure brings the most modern electronic identity technology to the uncharted waters of security on the high seas", said Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, Director of the ILO programme responsible for the measure.

"This is vitally important since in these uncertain times, ensuring the security of seafarers and the ships they work on is crucial to the continued smooth flow of world trade." The new global standard will allow for the use of a "biometric template" for turning two seafarer's fingerprints into an internationally standardized 2-D barcode on the Seafarer's Identity Document (SID). Employers' groups, workers' groups, and a majority of governments represented at the Governing Body supported the immediate approval of a new standard as a matter of urgency to meet new security measures already being imposed on seafarers worldwide.

As a result of the ILO Governing Body decision, countries can proceed with immediate ratification of Convention No. 185. All ratifying countries will be able to issue new SIDs that conform to the requirements specified in ILO SID-0002 Finger Minutiae-Based Biometric Profile for Seafarers' Identity Documents. Adhering to the standard will enable biometric verification of seafarers presenting a SID as they traverses the globe doing their jobs.

After months of negotiations and discussions on both the technical features and the economic as well as political implications for ILO member States, the Governing Body accepted the proposal of a minutiae-based method for fingerprint template creation, truncation, and barcode storage. The prioritized biometric profile, ILO SID-0002, will be submitted as a technical report to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in support of ongoing collaboration with ISO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on the issue of international standardization of the SID.

Convention No. 185 was adopted to replace the Convention on Seafarers' Identity Documents No. 108 (1958). The new Convention, No. 185, will be effective as soon as two countries have ratified it. The current 1958 instrument has been ratified by 61 ILO member States representing 60.7 per cent of the world fleet.

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