CSR Condemns Forced Detention of Seafarers

Thursday, December 16, 2004
Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq., the Director of the Seamen's Church Institute's (SCI) Center for Seafarers' Rights, urged RADM Thomas Gilmore, Assistant Commandant of Marine Safety & Environmental Protections, to protect the human and legal rights of seafarers during investigations of environmental accidents. U.S. port chaplains recently reported several cases of forced detentions of seafarers to the Institute.

"In one of the most troubling reports, mariner witnesses were shackled and held in immigration prison when their company refused to continue paying for a hotel," said Mr. Stevenson. The Center for Seafarers' Rights (CSR) does not dispute the necessity of protecting the fragile marine environment and the vigorous enforcement of federal environmental laws as a crucial deterrent for illegal marine pollution. CSR lawyers are concerned that mariners increasingly are suffering severe penalties for cooperating with investigations of environmental crimes.

"These mariners are not 'whistle-blowers' eligible for rewards for reporting environmental crimes. Their honesty results in their paychecks stopping and losing the ability to return home," said Mr. Stevenson.

CSR is calling on RADM Gilmore to review the United States policy of involuntarily detaining merchant mariners as material witnesses of environmental crimes. The statement also looks for changes with the Department of Justice's detention policies.

"U.S. justice officials must treat mariner witnesses with gratitude and respect instead of as criminals. Then these seafarers will be more inclined to cooperate in efforts to prevent, deter and prosecute environmental crimes," said Mr. Stevenson.

Some Examples of Seafarers Detained in U.S. as Witnesses in Marine Environmental Crime Investigations Reported to SCI's Center for Seafarers' Rights

· Seward, Alaska. July 2004. Two Burmese crewmembers formerly employed by Boyang Shipping forced to remain in Seward, Alaska since July 2004 as material witnesses in an illegal dumping case. Receiving $336/month from U.S government to cover expenses. Unable to work in U.S. or begin new contract.

· M/V Katrina, LA/LB, California. December 2004. Twelve seafarers stated they witnessed illegal oil discharge when interviewed by Coast Guard. Company originally paid for hotel, but then refused. Seafarers led out in shackles and detained overnight by U.S. Marshals, then released into custody of Los Angeles, CA Seafarers' Center where they now sleep on the floor and subsist on charity from the Seafarers Center.

· M/V Endeavor. September 2004. Seafarer in Queens, New York received subpoena for testimony as witness in alleged illegal oil dumping incident that occurred in September 2004. Hearing originally set for mid-November, seafarer unable to begin new contract while waiting to testify.

· M/V Faithful. Newark, New Jersey, November 2004. Ten crewmembers forced to remain in U.S. for interviews with U.S. Coast Guard into allegations of illegal oil dumping. They are held under guard at a hotel. Shipping company is paying their living expenses (for now).

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