New ratification opens the way for ILO Convention on seafarers' ID card

The ILO Convention No. 185, designed to create a new biometric identity verification system for the world’s 1.2 million maritime workers has received sufficient ratifications to go into force.

Press release | GENEVE | 18 August 2004

GENEVA (ILO News) -- An international labour standard designed to create a new biometric identity verification system for the world’s 1.2 million maritime workers has received sufficient ratifications to go into force in February 2005, the International Labour Office (ILO) said today.

ILO Convention No. 185, adopted by the International Labour Conference in June 2003 to bolster international security in the global sea shipping industry, received its second ratification from Jordan . The Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention, 2003 (No. 185) 1/ was previously ratified by France . Two member States must ratify the Convention before it can go into force.

In addition to France and Jordan, several countries are also taking steps towards ratification of the new instrument, the ILO said. Following the ratification of the new Convention by Jordan , the Convention will enter into force on 9 February 2005 . However, countries that have already ratified could begin to issue new Seafarers Identify Documents before the end of the year.

Convention No. 185, adopted to replace the Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention No. 108 (1958), has been hailed as a major step toward strengthening security measures on the high seas and in the world’s ports. At the same time, it is also designed to ensure 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.

“The tragic consequences of terrorism can be aggravated by security measures resulting in hardship for the world’s seafarers, including work under detrimental conditions or loss of jobs, and for world shipping in general,” said Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, Director of the ILO programme that promotes the new instrument. “This convention provides an unprecedented international system for identification freely agreed to on behalf of Governments, ship owners and seafarers.”

In the framework of Convention No. 185, the Governing Body of the ILO approved in March 2004 a biometric verification system, which provides a more rigorous response to the need for increased security in the maritime industry.

The new identity document for seafarers allows for the use of a "biometric template" to turn two fingerprints of a seafarer into an internationally standardized 2-D barcode on the Seafarer's Identity Document (SID). Employers' groups, workers' groups and governments represented at the 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.

All countries ratifying Convention No.185 will be able to issue new SIDs that conform to the requirements specified in standard ILO SID-0002 Finger Minutiae-Based Biometric Profile for Seafarers’ Identity Documents.

The 1958 instrument had been ratified by 61 ILO member States representing 60.7 per cent of the world shipping fleet. These member States also can, under certain conditions, already issue updated documents pending their ratification of the new Convention.

In order to ensure that SIDs are globally recognizable, the ILO is currently preparing to test biometric identity verification systems from a number of suppliers for compatibility with its requirements.


1/ Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention, 2003 (No. 185) can be found at

For more information on this issue please visit the ILO's Maritime Labour Standards page