Stowaways Endangered by U.S. Shore Leave Policy

Thursday, November 13, 2003
New data reporting shore leave denials across the country show United States policies that endanger stowaways. The data was collected by the Seamen's Church Institute's Center for Seafarers' Rights (CSR) in October. The data was recently submitted to the United States Coast Guard, the United States Maritime Administrator, and the Department of Homeland Security. "This survey shows alarming security issues affecting merchant mariners and stowaways. None of the collected data shows that crew members were denied shore leave because they posed a potential security risk. Rather, they were denied shore leave for administrative reasons and for precautions not justified by evidence of a threat. Instead of the crew posing a threat, more often they were punished for acts over which they had no control, such as stowaways secreting themselves on their vessels or shipmates jumping ship," said Mr. Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights. In a letter to Admiral James Loy, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration for United States Department of Homeland Security the Center for Seafarers' Rights called official reaction to stowaways "problematic." The policy of detaining crew and requiring ship operators to place guards on ships on which stowaways are discovered (to guard both the stowaways and crew), endangers the lives of stowaways. "This policy, which unreasonably punishes ships' crews and causes ship operators to incur high guard expenses, creates an incentive to make sure that stowaways are removed, one way or another, from ships enroute United States ports," said Mr. Stevenson. "With regard to detaining crew when shipmates jump ship or when stowaways are found on their vessels, the Center for Seafarers' Rights recommend that immigration inspectors not order the crew detained on their vessels except in cases where probable cause exists that specific crewmembers violated United States law." The most common reason for denial of shore leave is the lack of a visa. The Center for Seafarers' Rights also strongly encouraged Admiral Loy to recommend that the United States ratify and implement the International Labor Organization's Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention (Revised) (ILO-185). ILO-185 will enhance maritime security by setting international standards for seafarer identification documents that will provide reliable, positively verifiable and internationally acceptable identification. In addition to denials based on visa requirements, many situations involved private tank terminals (oil & gas terminals) prohibiting access to or from vessels tied up at their facilities, irrespective of the crew's immigration status. Some of the security/shore leave issues have already been resolved. The Coast Guard's regulations implementing the Maritime Transportation Security Act have addressed the problem of private terminals' denial of shore access through requiring facility security plans to ensure coordination of shore leave for crews. The Center for Seafarers' Rights conducted a weeklong survey of selected United States ports to assess the extent of and the reasons for denial of shore leave to seafarers. The "snapshot" occurred from October 5 to October 11, 2003. Port Chaplains from the following ports submitted information: Port of Houston, Texas; Port of New York/New Jersey; Port of Tacoma, Washington; Port of Seattle, Washington; Port Everglades, Florida; Port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Port of San Diego, California; Port of Boston, Massachusetts; Port of Brunswick, Georgia; Port of Lake Charles, Louisiana; Portland, Maine; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Port Manatee, Florida; and Port Arthur, Texas. The Center for Seafarers' Rights will continue to monitor shore leave denial nationwide. The Center for Seafarers' Rights of the Seamen's Church Institute is a worldwide resource for legal research, education, advocacy and assistance on seafarers' rights issues. The Center provides free counseling and referrals to merchant seafarers and seafarers' welfare agencies worldwide. The Center also works to improve national and international laws and practices protecting seafarers and improving maritime safety. CSR participates in IMO meetings, States Parties to the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention in New York City, and the International Labor Organization in Geneva.
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