French Mariner’s Social Security – A Complex Issue

There has been much comment and confusion over recent changes to French Social Security, specifically the Decret 2017-307 of the 9th March 2017.

This piece of legislation was bought in to widen the scope of social security coverage for mariners connected to France. It lead to serious concerns within the marine industry and especially yachting that a large-scale enrolment of seafarers into the French system was imminent, with severe penalties expected for employers, vessel owners and seafarers who did not comply.

The initial factors in assessing liability are:

  1. Are any of your crew French residents?
  2. Does your vessel spend a “significant amount of time” in French waters?
  3. Are the crew already paying social security to an EEA state or one with a reciprocal social security agreement with France?

These criteria themselves gave rise to further questions; what is “a significant amount of time”?  How is French residency to be defined?  What states have relevant reciprocal agreements with France?

Through our own contacts within the French authorities and with input from legal advisors in France and our contacts in the marine industry, we have been able to produce the following answers.

It must be stressed that individual cases will still require careful review – as with all matters involving tax and social security, it is extremely difficult to create a one-size-fits-all flow chart that simply gives one all the answers.

That said, some broad points are outlined below for initial guidance.

The following mariners may be exempt:

  • Mariners aboard vessels flying an EEA or Reciprocal Agreement flag are unaffected (provided they are contributing to the flag state’s approved scheme);
    • This includes French mariners unless they are paid from or otherwise employed by a French entity;
  • Reciprocal Agreements should be consulted carefully, as certain RAs do not provide enough cover, since they may mutually exclude non-citizens;
  • Mariners who do not reside in a “stable, regular manner” in France (i.e. are there <3 months of the year);
  • Mariners who live aboard foreign flagged vessels, even when aboard >6 months;
  • Certain mariners in coastal or interior waters aboard certain classes of vessel.

The following mariners may very likely have to be enrolled in the scheme:

  • Mariners resident >3 months in French territory
  • Mariners on board vessels with no protection from an EEA treaty or bilateral agreement

The information from ENIM brings a lot more clarity to the situation but there still remain areas on which more information is needed. The concept of “living aboard” foreign-flagged vessels still requires some fleshing out, since it may be possible that further guidelines appear about time spent ashore by crew, vessel movements etc. that go on to cover vessels which spend >6 months tied up alongside, going nowhere else.

We continue to work with our clients to assess their fleets and would strongly encourage vessel owners, employers and crew who have concerns to seek professional advice.