Thursday, October 23, 2008

Seafarer's Access to Shore Leave

One of the more sensative issues that NMSAC has been working on is the issue of allowing Seafarer's access to shore leave while in port. As a former Merchant Officer, I can tell you that getting off the boat for a few hours is a huge deal to most sailors. Even if it's to go to Wal Mart to get a new tooth brush, getting a change of scenery does much for crew morale.

The shore leave issue for foreign seafarers is extremely sensitive and has long been receiving attention from seafarer representative organizations, foreign flagged steamship companies and their industry representative organizations (BIMCO, for example). Some facility owners/operators have established security measures that essentially bar access to any persons not vetted by them, including seafarers seeking access to shore leave. Others have established a system of escort and transportation through the facility with the cost of this service being billed directly to the individual seafarer.

NMSAC was tasked to develop a working group to examine and quantify the extent to which the issue of seafarer’s access to shore leave is a problem and develop a set of reasonable solutions and recommendations that the Department can use in addressing the issue. At their September 18 meeting, the NMSAC reviewed and discussed the results of the Seafarer’s Access Working group:

Findings of the Working Group:

The Working Group identified two main elements of the issue:

  1. Physical access through facilities, and,
  2. Seafarers’ documentation.

Physical Access
Physical access issues arise through inconsistent interpretation of regulations and weak support from the Coast Guard for the intent of the human element provisions of the ISPS Code – specifically, paragraphs 10 and 11 of the Preamble and Part A, Section 16.3.15. The Working Group found that physical access issues must be resolved through the Coast Guard and terminal operators.

Seafarers’ Documentation
Seafarers’ documentation issues arise through the immigration policies of the federal government. For example, the arrivals and departures of air crews in the United States are governed by the same laws that apply to seafarers. However, air crew members may receive a waiver of the visa requirements for short stays. This is generally not done for seafarers.
Seafarers’ documentation issues must be resolved through action by Customs and Border Protection and the Department of State.

The Working Group made 10 specific recommendations, specifically geared to address 3 fundamental Goals:

  1. Clarify the relevant statutes and regulations to reemphasize the human element and the protection of seafarers’ rights as an important principle of port facility security. In addition, clarify which government agency has the authority to make policies and to enforce regulations that ensure seafarers access to shore leave and visitors.
  2. Resolve issues relating to seafarers’ physical access to shore leave and visitors.
  3. Resolve issues relating to seafarers’ documentation.

NMSAC Deliberations:
The Committee recognized that many of the recommendations, especially those addressing clarification of the relevant statutes/regulations and resolving the issues relating to seafarers’ documentation are not solely a Coast Guard issue to resolve. As such they recommended that these recommendations be forwarded to the CG/CBP Senior Guidance Team (SGT) for action.

In regards to the recommendations relating to seafarer’s physical access to shore leave visitors, the NMSAC agreed overall with the findings of the working group and officially made the recommendation to the Coast Guard that:

“NMSAC recommends the CG implement and enforce the obligation of port
facilities under the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, the
Maritime Transportation Security Act, and the relevant provision Title 33 Code
of Federal Regulations regarding seafarers' access to shore leave, visitors,
representatives of seafarers welfare and labor organizations.

NMSAC further recommends that the CG require each facility provide
unencumbered access for seafarers by requiring that every port facility security
plan facilitate shore leave, crew changes, and access for visitors. Any costs
for facilitating such access are a matter for the port facility.”

So, what's next? NMSAC staff will be working with the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC) staff to coordinate a joint meeting with the USCG/CBP Senior Guidance Team to further explore the issue and consider the recommendations identified in the report including a look at legal authority to force facilities to provide access to shore leave.

Additionally, in support of the Subchapter H rewrite, NMSAC will be asked to assist in drafting standardized language for facility security plans to address the Seafarer’s access.

No comments: