NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Mr. Subrat Kulshrestha: Employment of Seamen on Indian Ships
By Sea and Coast | 18/06/2019

There are two types of employment offered to Indian seamen on board Indian vessels, that is.

  1. Permanent employment by a Company:
  2. Registration at the Seamen’s Employment office (S.E.O.)

The former , for example, Machinists, Fitters, Head Waiters, Butlers, Chief Stewards, Carpenters, etc.( generally called Petty Officers) are  employed directly by the Company concerned and are issued a Continuous Certificate of Discharge. (C.D.C.) by the Shipping Master and Identify card by the S.E.O. (Nowadays Passports are made for this category.)  They are subject to and governed by;

i) The Merchant Shipping act 1958

ii) Articles of Agreement and

iii) Terms of contract signed between the employees and the employers.

The ratings belonging to the second category are either borne on the Company Roster are registered with the S.E.O. and are issued a C.D.C. by the Shipping Master, and a Registration Book by the S.E.O.

The registered ratings who are employed through S.E.O. are subject to and protected by:

i)  The Merchant Shipping Act 1958;

ii)  Articles of Agreement;

iii) Seamen’s Employment Office Rules, 1954

iv)  Decisions of the Seamen’s Employment Board, and

v) Terms and conditions of service as agreed to at National Maritime Board, which is a bipartite organization of ship-owners and seafarers.

Under Section 3 (12) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1958 a ‘seaman’ means every person (except a Master, pilot or apprentice) employed or engaged as a member of the cerew of a ship.

Engagement of Seamen

The Master of every Indian ship, except a home trade ship of less than two hundred tons gross, is obliged to enter into an agreement with every seamen whom he engages in, and carries to sea as one of his crews.  The Master then, at the commencement of every voyage or engagement, cause a legibly copy of the agreement in a language understood by the majority of the crew, to be placed or posted up on such part of the ship as to be accessible to the crew.

Under Section 100 or the M.S. Act 1958 this agreement is termed  ‘Agreement with the Crew’ but it is generally referred to as ‘ Articles of Agreement’.  The crew agreement system, and the articles of agreement system that preceded it, mean that this maritime contract of employment is a written contract as prescribed by the M.S. Act 1958.  The agreement must be dated at the time of the first signature thereof, and must be signed by the owner and/or the Master before any seamen signs the same.  In the new agreement with the crew there is a provision for greater flexibility and the law now makes it absolutely clear that the contract is made between the owner, as employer and each individual member  of the crew, rather than  with the crew as a collective unit.  Moreover, the agreement is not between Master and seaman; not that it ever was, as a matter of law, but the requirement that the Master should sign (as agent of the owner) often gave that impression.

The agreement with the crew must be in the prescribed form and must contain all the particulars laid down in Section 101 of the M.S. Act 1958.  In addition to the crew agreement, the regulations deal with another document called the ‘Crew List’  The crew list may be in the same document as the crew agreement, but need not be.  The crew list must contain details and particulars of the ship and its owner, and of each seaman and supernumerary employed aboard her (seaman for once includes Master)

There being only one copy of the crew agreement, this is carried in the ship, and on request must be produced to any concerned authorities. As every agreement has a commencement so also must it have a termination.  The process of ‘signing off’ is as traditional a ceremony as ‘signing on’.  In the normal course of events a seaman’s discharge from his contractual obligations takes place before the Shipping Master and the employer or some person authorised by the employer must remain present on board the ship.  On closure of the crew agreement it is to be deposited with the Shipping Master.

It is best that the Master and owner’s crew department maintains a full and complete record of each sign-on and sign-off.  As regards the seaman, the particulars must include name, address, number of discharge book, date and place of birth, name of  the last ship,  capacity in which employed in present ship, details of any certificate of competency, date of commencement and discharge (if any) or circumstances of being left behind (if applicable and name and address of next of kin.

Apart from the sole exception that the Master appears in the crew list, this system does not apply to him at all. His contract may be made without formality or even without writing.  Of course, Maters of ships are invariably appointed by formal written agreement. The regulations apply to all  ‘ seamen’ which is implied by the M.S. Act 1958 to include officers and apprentices, who are therefore subject to the regulations described above.  It may be pertinent to mention here that in India there may be separate articles of agreement for officers and crew.