In an effort to pre-empt terrorism on the high seas and in the world’s ports, a new and more rigorous United Nations-sponsored biometric identity verification system that could potentially affect 1.2 million maritime workers handling 90 per cent of global trade has entered into force.
Although only three countries – France, Jordan and Nigeria – have so far ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention 2003 (No. 185), only two need do so for it two enter into force, and it became operative yesterday, six months after its second endorsement.
But more than 50 countries have submitted the Convention, replacing Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention 1958 (No.108), for consideration by their national parliaments. Many, including India, the Philippines and Indonesia, which have large numbers of seafarers, are making plans for implementation while considering the ratification.
All ratifying states will be required to issue new documents conforming to the standards for converting two fingerprints into a biometric template to be stored in an internationally standardized 2-D barcode printed on the Seafarers’ Identity Document (SID). One basic requisite is global interoperability, meaning that the fingerprint information issued in one country can be read correctly by equipment used in another.
“The Convention puts in place a comprehensive security system that enables the first global implementation of biometric identification technology on a mandatory basis, thus enabling positive identification of the seafarer that holds the document,” said Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, Director of the ILO International Standards Department.
The Convention, adopted by the 176-member Geneva-based organization in June 2003, seeks to balance the imperatives of security with the rights and freedoms of maritime workers and facilitate mobility in the exercise of their profession, for example when they board their ships to work, take shore leave or return home.
Employers’ groups, workers’ groups and governments represented on ILO’s Governing Body supported the approval of a new standard as a matter of urgency to meet new security measures already being imposed on seafarers worldwide. Until now there have been no mandatory specifications for international identity documents.