CSR Promotes Solution to Shore Leave/Security Dilemma

Thursday, November 21, 2002
The Seamen's Church Institute's Center for Seafarers' Rights is actively promoting a single internationally developed seafarers' identity card. Currently, seafarers entering U.S. ports need a visa, which is not required in most countries. These U.S. visas recently went up in price from $65 to $100 and do not guarantee shore leave especially at private tanker terminals whose security procedures may deny shore leave to all crew members. Speaking today at the Chemical Carrier's Association Fall Conference in League City Texas, Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights, emphatically hoped that Congress would be "satisfied" by an identity card developed through existing international maritime organizations. "Clearly our reliance on visas did not protect us from the 9-11 attacks. We need new tools to respond to these new threats," said Mr. Stevenson. "Instead of trying to defend an inadequate system, our government needs to have an open mind to accept seafarers' identity cards that meet international standards as a substitute for a crew visa." The United States had already requested the United Nations' International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop standards for a seafarers' identity card. The IMO referred the proposal to the International Labour Organization (ILO), which already had a convention on this topic. The identification card was placed on a fast track and the ILO plans to adopt a Protocol to the Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention next June. "Proposals for establishing international standards for seafarers' identity cards hold a lot of promise. They provide a reliable, positively verifiable and internationally acceptable identification card," said Mr. Stevenson who attended recent IMO and ILO meetings. "These cards will go a long way towards raising professionalism and protecting national security." Early in October 2001, the U.S. Coast Guard promulgated nationwide maritime security regulations, including 96-hour advance notice of arrivals. The regulations authorized the Coast Guard Captains of the Port to employ any additional restrictions to ensure security. Terminal operators were required by the Coast Guard to create security plans. Some private terminals, especially tank terminals, imposed their own restrictions on shore leave. The rules also placed restrictions on all persons-including port chaplains-access to terminals and vessels. The Maritime Transportation Act of 2002 and the new international security standards code will place significant security functions on ships' crews. Seafarers may be required to get multiple seafarer identity documents. Meanwhile, seafarers are still being denied shore leave and shipowners are required by the U.S. Coast Guard to pay for guards to keep watch over crews detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "Of course the unanswered question is: How can the U.S. expect a ship's crew to protect security on their vessels when in U.S. ports the authorities don't even trust them to go to the dock to make a call home?" said Mr. Stevenson. The Center for Seafarers' Rights has received no information that connect ships' crews to terrorist threats. CSR has received numerous complaints from across the country from port chaplains and merchant mariners denied shore leave. Both shore leave denials and guard service expenses are directly related to problem with the U.S. visa system. "Merchant mariners want to be seen as part of the solution instead of the problem," said Stevenson.
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