Are you ready for ILO 188?

Fishing is a unique career, even in the maritime sector. Workers are still, to a large extent, engaged as self-employed contractors – so called “share fishermen” – where their remuneration is linked to the success or otherwise of any individual trip. In the past there has been no common approach to the provision of written terms and conditions of employment for crew of fishing vessels but this is something which is now changing.

In recent years, the increasing prevalence of foreign crew has been accompanied by an increase in the number of crew engaged under written contracts, usually on wordings provided by manning agencies.

What the changes mean for you

The recent introduction of the International Labour Organization’s work in fishing convention (ILO 188) means that for the first time all fishermen, however they are remunerated (set wage or percentage share) are entitled to receive written terms and conditions of employment.

Whilst it has always been the responsibility of the vessel owner to provide a safe environment for their crew to work, ILO 188 has seen codification of a much wider set of principles in relation to crew welfare. This convention was established as part of UK law by various statutory instruments in 2018 and the MCA have released a suite of new Marine Guidance Notes linked to the new regulations, most of which are now in force. In practice what the new provisions mean is that all vessel owners will have more documentation in relation to their crew.

The new provisions apply to all fishermen working on vessels of any size, although vessels over 24m in length are subject to more stringent requirements. Crew must also have a certificate of medical fitness to work on board a fishing vessel. This, among other standards, has applied to other merchant marine sectors for some time.

Further information including the relevant MGNs can be found on the UK government’s website at

Model terms and conditions have recently been added to the government website at the link above. Search for “Fisherman’s Work Agreements”.

The convention also entitles fishermen to decent accommodation and food, medical care, regulated working time, repatriation, social protection as well as health and safety on board. Repatriation and medical costs following accident or illness on board would be recoverable expenses under your Protection & Indemnity cover provided that, in the case of non-EU nationals, their contracts have been approved in advance and any additional premium paid. Uncertainties surrounding Brexit mean that further changes concerning the recovery of medical expenses for crew from EU countries could occur.

More change to come

Further provisions relating to manning requirements for vessels over 24m in length and relating to  crew lists being left ashore at the commencement of each trip will come into force at the end of November 2019 along with compulsory requirements for providing financial security for sickness, injury and death. Where a fisherman’s work agreement includes the provision of payments to crew or their families on a no-fault basis, then separate insurance may need to be arranged. You should speak to your underwriter about what your policy does and does not cover if in doubt.

Personal flotation devices

One of the most notable provisions of ILO 188 is that it makes the wearing of personal floatation devices (PFDs) compulsory whilst crew are working on deck unless a satisfactory alternative has been identified following a written risk assessment process. This is an important development as it will now be an offence if crew do not wear an appropriate PFD where no alternative exists. It is the vessel owner who will ultimately be responsible, in law, for ensuring that the enforcement of this. For vessels where an employed skipper is in place, the owner’s responsibility will be delegated accordingly.  It is likely to be the vessel owner who will be found liable for any civil legal actions resulting from the loss of any crewmember who was not wearing a PFD at the time of their loss. Ignoring this regulation would also put an insured in breach of their insurance policy conditions.

The wearing of PFDs has been an emotive topic for many years. Sunderland Marine’s own experience of man overboard incidents reflects the general wisdom that wearing a PFD significantly increases a casualty’s chances of survival.

If you have questions about the issues in this article, get in touch with a member of our team.

Graham Darke, Senior Claims Adjuster

Graham Darke4


For further information contact: Katherine Clifford +44 191 232 5221

Note to editors
Sunderland Marine is the leading international insurer of fishing vessels, aquaculture and angling lakes risks with over 8,000 policyholders worldwide. Established in 1882, the Standard and Poor’s A-rated company is based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK with regional offices in Australia and New Zealand and, trading as Harlock Murray Underwriting, in Canada. The company became part of North Group in 2014 following a merger with global marine mutual North P&I Club, which also has offices and subsidiaries in China (Hong Kong and Shanghai), Greece, Ireland, Japan, Singapore and USA. Sunderland Marine’s qualified and knowledgeable teams of underwriters, surveyors and claims staff ensure clients are provided with high levels of service and comprehensive insurance policies. The company is also at the forefront of promoting safety at sea and regularly contributes to and sponsors training programmes in the UK and overseas. For more information, please visit Sunderland Marine’s website at