Oct 262008

Crew morale is a safety issue so efforts being made by the US National Maritime Security Committee, NMSAC, are to be welcomed. Present restrictions which effectively prevent non-US seafarers from having shore leave in US ports are by any measure, except xenophobic paranoia, unreasonably restrictive and onerous to those who have spend weeks or months huddled in the confines of a ship, people upon whom the United States depends for its existence.

Currently, the only sure way to get shore access in the US is to hit a bridge.

NMSAC’s blog gives rundown on what it regards as “One of the more sensitive issues that NMSAC has been working on”. Says the blogger “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.”

Currentlky, Some facility owners and 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. So, freedom isn’t free in a US port.

An NMSAC working group is looking at the issues. On physical access to the port and surrounding areas, the committee says: “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.”

It has also looked at documentation issues: “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.”

In other words, inconsistent application of the ISPS code, turning a blind-eye to those provisions applying to the treatment of seafarers, inequitable treatment of seafarers versus aircrew even though the same rules apply, conspire to make life even harder and more unfair for seafarers.

The committee 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.”

It also wants to “look at legal authority to force facilities to provide access to shore leave.”

MAC suspects that the chances of the Department of Homeland Security giving the nod to fair treatment of seafarers are minimal. Possibly there should be recommendation to establish a main US port of entry at Guatanamo Bay.

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