Flag principle

1.1. General

Basis: Convention on the High Seas, art. 5 UNO United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, art. 94

The flag state sets the rules regarding supervision of administrative, technical and social employment on board the ships that fly its flag. This means that the social security of employees working on board sea-going ships is determined by the legislation of the flag state.

1.2. Ships under the flag of an EU Member State

Basis: EU Regulation 883/04, art. 11.4

Work that is usually carried out, whether on the basis of an employment contract or not, on board a sea-going ship which is sailing under the flag of a Member State, shall be regarded as work that is carried out within that Member State.

1.3. Ships under the Belgian flag

Basis: Legislative Order 07/02/1945, art. 2

Without prejudice to the provisions of international agreement and decrees, merchant shipowners and the seafarers that they employ on board a sea-going ship that sails under the Belgian flag, are subject to the Belgian social security system for merchant shipping companies.

For the application of this legislation the terms below are understood to mean:

  • seafarers: employees who are bound to a merchant shipowner, via an employment contract, to carry out work on board a sea-going vessel;
  • merchant shipowner: every natural person or legal person which operates under the Belgian flag and in pursuit of profit, equips a sea-going vessel for the purpose of transporting persons or businesses, despite the legal title that it has on the latter, as well as every company set forth in article 2quater.
  • sea-going ship: every ship used or intended to be used at sea.

Can be excluded from the field of application of legislative order of 7 February 1945:

Basis: Royal Decree 15/05/2003

  • seafarers who do not reside or are not domiciled in a European Member State;
  • seafarers who reside or are domiciled in a country with which Belgium has not concluded a social security treaty.

This exclusion, however, is dependent upon the fulfilment of the following conditions:

  • seafarers are insured for social risks in their country of origin, or
  • the shipowner has concluded an insurance contract for the relevant seafarers which fulfils the standards set out in the conventions number 55 and 56 of the International Labour Organisation.

1.4. Ships under Luxembourg flag

Basis: Belgium-Luxembourg accord 25/03/1991

The Belgium-Luxembourg Accord of 25 March 1991 sets out that the seafarers that are registered in the Belgian Pool of merchant seafarers retain their rights under the Belgian social security regime, contrary to the flag principle, if they are employed on board a ship that is operating under the Luxembourg flag.

1.5. Ex-RMT ships

Basis: Legislative Order 07/02/1945, art. 2 quater

Seafarers who have been employed since 1 January 1997 on board a sea-going ship under a Luxembourg flag that is equipped by a company that operates in the maritime transport sector from and to a Member State of the European Union (ex-RMT) are subject to Belgian social security with regard to contributions owed (Legislative Order 07/02/1945, art. 2quater).