CSR Urges Support of Merchant Mariner ID Cards

Monday, May 12, 2003
The Center for Seafarers' Rights of the Seamen's Church Institute (CSR) of New York & New Jersey is urging the Hon. Colin Powell, Secretary of State and the Hon. Tom Ridge, Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security to support internationally-acceptable merchant mariner identification cards. At the United States' initiative, the 91st Session of the International Labor Conference (ILO), June 3-19 2003 in Geneva will consider improved security of seafarers' identification. The Conference intends to finalize international standards for a seafarer identification document that would provide reliable, positively verifiable and internationally acceptable identification. "Internationally recognized seafarers' identification cards offer the best possible compromise between legitimate port security requirements and the need for crews to attend to their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs on shore leave - provided that the United States accepts the seafarers' identification card as the basis for waiving crew visas for shore leave." said Mr. Douglas B. Stevenson Director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights. "Unfortunately, the concept that the cards could be used as a basis for visa waiver or substitute has not yet been accepted in the U.S. State Department and portions of the Department of Homeland Security. " Stevenson will attend the ILO conference as chairman of the International Christian Maritime Organization's ILO standing delegation. Post-9/11 maritime security measures have placed growing restrictions on merchant mariners' shore leave while increasing their security responsibilities on board and ashore. Despite their additional duties, seafarers face a greater likelihood of confinement to their vessel, not as known security risks, but simply because they do not possess D-1 visas. At the same time, backlogs at American consulates and the high visa fees make D-1 visas very difficult for foreign mariners to obtain. "CSR strongly believes that if the United States accepts the identification card as a substitute for a D-1 visa, the American proposal will gain more international acceptance without compromising the goal of enhancing maritime security," said Mr. Stevenson. Stevenson also points out that this will require ILO to agree to standards for a seafarers' identification document, it will satisfy the technical requirements of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Entry Act of 2002 (e.g. machine-readable, tamper-proof, digital photograph, biometric indicator). This combination of the card and existing security measures would provide a sufficiently high level of security. Crewmembers not in possession of an acceptable seafarers identification document would have to obtain a visa to apply for shore leave in the United States. Statutory authority for waiving visas already exists. The Immigration and Nationality Act allows aliens to enter the United States as non-immigrants subject to the regulations prescribed by the Attorney General. Existing laws already allow an immigration officer to waive crewmember visa requirements and grant shore leave to foreign merchant mariners who do not have crew visas. This authority, with the appropriate articulation of criteria for evaluating waiver requests, can be used to allow the international seafarer's identification card to serve as an alternative to a visa. No change would occur in the extensive background check done by the Coast Guard under the 96-Hour pre-arrival notification process, or through Immigration Service's use of the Interagency Border Information System. International Identification Cards would augment these security checks via the same safeguards incorporated into the card that are contained in a visa. "Maritime security depends upon merchant vessel crews to be on the front-line in the war against terrorism. Merchant mariners should be properly identified and recognized. Requirements for shore leave should be reasonably calculated to prevent illegal entry without unreasonably burdening mariners and their employers. Strict security measures do not need to diminish the already limited freedoms and opportunities for shore leave that seafarers possess," said Stevenson.
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