December 6, 2004

New ILO seafarer ID system ready for implementation

The International Labor Office (ILO) says that the new biometric system for issuing secure identity documents to the world's 1.2 million seafarers is ready for implementation, following successful testing of products that met the requirement of "global interoperability" for such documents.

The new system, mandated under the Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention, 2003 (No. 185) adopted by the Government, Employer and Worker delegates to the International Labour Conference in June 2003, is described as "a comprehensive response to the need for greater global security while guaranteeing the rights of workers in the global shipping fleet."

Convention No. 185 is the first international binding instrument for an identification system. Its biometric feature, the fingerprint, is based upon "global interoperability", meaning that it must be possible for the fingerprint information on the Seafarer Identity Document (SID) issued in one country to be read correctly by equipment used in another.

To enable this, the ILO Governing Body adopted in March 2004 a single standard with specifications to be followed in national systems and products for generating the biometric representation of fingerprints on the SID, and for verifying that the seafarer's fingerprint corresponds to the fingerprint on the SID.

With the cooperation of organizations representing seafarers and shipowners, the ILO has just completed a six-week test involving 126 volunteer seafarers on the M.V. Crystal Harmony, a vessel operated by Crystal Cruises. The seafarers included men and women from 30 countries and covered a broad distribution of ages and a diverse set of seafaring job categories.

The testing exercise involved seven biometric products submitted by various manufacturers. The ILO has found that two of them met the requirement of global interoperability.

"This announcement paves the way for countries to start issuing the secure identity documents," says Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, Director of the Standards Department of the ILO. "We are expecting that future testing will allow us to bring other providers to the list of products that meet the requirements and that can be used by countries to issue the new identification cards."

Convention No. 185 was adopted to replace the Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention No. 108 (1958), which has been ratified by 61 ILO Member States representing 60.7 per cent of the world's fleet.

The new instrument will come into force in February 2005 following early ratification by France, Jordan and Nigeria. Several other countries have already started the process to complete ratification, according to information provided to the ILO. Among these are the Philippines, Indonesia and India, countries that provide the largest number of seagoing maritime personnel.

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