Medical examination is covered under ILO 188 and will be brought into UK Law under The Merchant Shipping (Work in Fishing Convention) (Medical Certification) Regulations 2018.

From 30 May 2019, a fisherman should hold a medical fitness certificate issued by an MCA-approved doctor if he is working at sea for more than seven days on a fishing vessel of 24m or more; and from 30 November 2019, the same certificate should be held by those working for more than 72 hours at sea on fishing vessels under 24m. From 30 November 2023, all fishermen working on board any other fishing vessel will need certification.

The certificates will either be the familiar ENG1 - currently issued to merchant seaman - or the new ML5. The certificates will last for one year for persons aged between 16–18 and generally two years for those over 18, albeit conditions or shorter periods can be included in the certificate. A medical fitness certificate may be suspended or cancelled if the fisherman is absent, or likely to be absent from work for 30 days or more due to a medical condition or injury, or develops a significant medical condition.

“Significant medical condition” is one which adversely affects, or is reasonably likely to adversely affect, the fisherman’s ability to perform their duties at sea, including their ability to undertake emergency duty. The individual must report their medical condition as soon as possible.

Under Regulation 16 a relevant inspector may inspect a non-UK vessel and require any fisherman onboard to produce documentation to ensure the requirements of Article 10 of the Working Fishermen Convention are met.

It will be an offence for a UK fishing vessel owner to fail to comply with the regulation -punishable by a fine, albeit non-UK vessels are simply reported to their flag state and ILO.

Fishing vessel owners must therefore ensure their crew have medical certificates from the specified dates. For those engaging foreign crews with a certificate issued before the regulations come into force, these will cease to be valid on the date specified on the foreign certificate or, if earlier, 30 November 2020. A certificate issued under foreign jurisdiction is not equivalent to a medical fitness certificate unless it is issued in English, either solely or alongside another language.

From 30 November 2019, fishing vessel owners will have a duty to ensure that a fisherman:

  • receives medical treatment on board a vessel;
  • receives medical treatment ashore; and
  • is taken ashore in a timely manner in the event of suffering sickness or injury during the terms of the fisherman’s work agreement.

The cost of the transfer for medical treatment is the the fishing vessel owner’s responsibility. How this is implemented in practice remains to be seen and will be considered by insurers.

From 31 December 2018, fishing vessel owners should have insurance; a UK fishing vessel cannot enter or leave port in the UK or elsewhere without it. This also applies to non-UK fishing vessels entering or attempting to leave a UK port. The insurance policy (or other form of security) must provide financial assurance to the amount which the fishing vessel owner reasonably considers adequate to meet any liabilities including those under any fisherman’s work agreement, to provide compensation in the event of death, disability arising from occupational injury, and hazards.

There is a duty to repatriate when the fisherman’s work agreement expires. The fisherman can request to return to the place where the agreement was first entered into, or their country of residence. A duty to care for the individual will apply pending repatriation and fishing vessel owners should not try to recover medical, repatriation or other costs from them.

While most employers may already perform above these standards, these new requirements will act as the minimum benchmark to attain, when they come into force. Many of the requirements will also apply to foreign flagged vessels in UK waters or landing at UK ports and it will be interesting to see how that is monitored.