Coast Guard and INS: Moving Ahead on Port Security

Thursday, May 02, 2002
Port security concerns are already resulting in crewmembers and caro being denied entry to U.S. ports. Even before Congress enacts a port security bill, Coast Guard and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) are using their current authority to turn vessels with suspicious cargo away from port and deny crewmember shore leave.

At the same time, Coast Guard is continuing to press the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to adopt significant new port security requirements on an international basis. Mislabeled Container Sparks Denial of Entry In a recent incident, the Coast Guard did not allow a French ship to offload container cargo that was mislabeled and considered to be dangerous to the port. The containers were considered “misdeclared and in substandard condition.” The vessel was ordered out of the port where it went to anchorage and subsequently left for a foreign destination. INS Restricting Crew Members Although INS has adopted no formal policy, INS announced on April 8, 2002 that it would no longer grant visa waivers or shore leave to any crewmembers without valid U.S. visas. If a crewmember arrives in the U.S. without a valid visa, the crewmember is to be detained on board the vessel. If a medical emergency is claimed for a crew member, INS is willing to review its action and make a case-by-case decision on the seaman involved.

Vessel owners are already experiencing detention of crewmembers on board vessels making U.S. port calls, INS has explicitly declined to adopt a uniform policy to govern these actions, stating, instead, that decision have been left to the local INS authorities. After several foreign crewmembers jumped ship in Norfolk, INS has adopted several policies to prevent such occurrences in the future. Some vessels have been told not to lower gangways until INS is present. Others have been required to provide armed guards to prevent crewmembers without visas from leaving a vessel. Ship officers without visas have not been allowed off the vessel to visit offices of agents or terminal operators. This unpredictable mix of ad hoc decisions is likely to continue for the foreseeable future until a coherent set of new security rules can be agreed upon.

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