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
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
"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
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
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.