Reflecting on the First IMO-ILO Conference
By Dr. Sebastiaan Kalwij (Medical Director) & John Prell (Assistant General Counsel)
On 13 November, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) held their first joint conference on Work at Sea. As VIKAND’s Medical Director and Assistant General Counsel, we had the chance to participate in this fascinating inaugural event, held at IMO headquarters in London, alongside VIKAND CEO Peter Hult and Managing Director of OneHealth by VIKAND Ronald Spithout.
The impressive speaker lineup included Kitack Lim, Secretary General of the IMO; Gilbert Houngbo, Director General of the ILO and former Prime Minister of Togo, Binali Yildirim, former Prime Minister of Turkey; Guy Platten of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS); and Stephen Cotton of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). An equally esteemed group of industry leaders were present to discuss solutions to critical issues in seafaring, particularly around rights and well-being.
One theme that echoed resoundingly was "No Seafarers, No Shopping.” This mantra highlights the indispensable role of seafarers in sustaining the maritime industry and global supply chain, but also underscores their daily impact on ordinary citizens.
We also discussed the labour shortage – especially in skilled roles – at a time when more seafarers are needed. A lifelong career at sea is quickly becoming a thing of the past as young people shun the profession for a number of reasons, including fair compensation, work-life balance, career expectations and competing shoreside roles.
Many of the top concerns about seafaring work concern issues that VIKAND actively strives to address. These include mental and physical health, injuries, and fatigue from long hours, as many work in excess of 98 hours per week. In surveys, free, good-quality internet topped the list of absolute must-haves for recruiting and retention. Young seafarers cannot go from connected on land 24/7 to isolated at sea for months on end.
Women also remain a minority at sea, and more must be done to make them feel safe. Mayte Medina, Chief for the Office of Merchant Mariner Credential at the Standards Directorate, stressed the importance of addressing issues such as bullying, harassment and sexual assault. Additionally, the conference placed a strong emphasis on the themes of technostress and automation, with artificial intelligence framed as both a challenge and an opportunity.
The event was a resounding success and a timely reminder that VIKAND is uniquely positioned to safeguard the future of seafaring and, by extension, global maritime trade – the economic engine that makes modern life possible for billions.
In this edition of Pulse, explore how a comprehensive, proactive healthcare solution is critical to addressing the mental health crisis at sea. You can also learn about Stefan Reljin’s role as a Medical Case Manager serving Hurtigruten Expeditions and read about the new amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), which go into effect soon and will help better protect seafarers.