The Seamen's Church Institute's Center for
Seafarers Rights (CSR) called for the United States to eliminate crew visas.
The recent incident of four Pakistani seafarers jumping ship after receiving visa waivers and the subsequent denial of shore leave for the ship's
remaining crewmembers clearly demonstrates the need for the United States to review its shore leave policies.
"A flawed crew visa policy resulted in the disciplining of the INS officer in the Norfolk case, while threatening to tighten already overly restricted shore leave controls -without enhancing national security," said Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights said in a letter to the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"The condition of a vessel and the treatment of its crew provide a far better means of evaluating ship-jumping risks," continued Mr. Stevenson who
is a former U.S. Coast Guard Commander. "Greatly increasing penalties to the owners or operators of ships from which crew jump would prove a far more
effective method of preventing illegal entry than increasing restrictions on shore leave."
Mariners who are well-paid and well-treated by their employers are extremely unlikely to jump ship. Greatly increasing penalties to the owners or operators of ships from which crew jump would prove a far more effective method of preventing illegal entry than increasing restrictions on shore leave.
Most foreign merchant mariners sign on for long voyages of 10 months to a year, working under incredibly difficult conditions to earn higher salaries than those available in their homelands. They face extended periods at sea with long work hours and in cramped living conditions without contact with their families.
Maritime law and practice has long recognized that shore leave is essential for maintaining seafarers' mental and physical health. To cut down on the shore leave benefits, recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court
as an "elemental necessity" to the well being of seafarers, will only increase problems of recruiting and retaining professional mariners.