After 10 years of testing an automated system for vetting crews arriving on commercial ships, the U.S. is finally ready to go fully paperless.
In an interim final rule to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is amending its regulations to require that vessel operators submit Form I-418, known as the passenger/crew list, in electronic form instead of the current paper requirement.
The new process is aimed at streamlining vessel arrivals and departures by eliminating redundant data submitted by vessel masters and agents and simplifying vessel inspections, “and thus generally establish a fully paperless passenger and crew list process for all commercial vessel arrivals and departures,” according to the rule, which is scheduled to go into effect 60 days after being published.
CBP officers currently spend “considerable time” vetting pre-arrival data, traveling to and from vessels, and conducting admissibility inspections and processing for vessel crews, according to CBP. This doesn’t include roughly two hours performing post-inspection processing for each vessel’s paper Form I-418 submission from arrival to departure.
Form I-418 is an alphabetical listing of all crew on board that includes, among other information, each crew member’s date of birth, nationality, position on board and travel document number.
To cut down on processing time, CBP launched an automation test program in 2011. Vessel operators participating in the program were allowed to submit crew-list data electronically to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Vessel Movement Center through its electronic Notice of Arrival/Departure system.
The process was further streamlined in 2015 and 2016; however, CBP continued to also record vessel inspection results and signatures on the paper form and physically stamp the form to meet the current regulatory requirements. Approximately 15% of cargo and vessels and 56% of cruise ships currently are at least partially participating in the test program.
With the new automated system requirement, CBP will be able to pre-vet a vessel’s electronic passenger and crew list from every commercial vessel arrival from a foreign port. Officers can travel to and from and board/disembark the vessel, conduct inspections, and record inspection results in real time using a mobile device.
“During arrivals/departures processed with mobile devices, CBP officers will directly record the inspection results and related actions into CBP data systems at the time of inspection and processing, eliminating the need for CBP officers to manually input the inspection results and related actions into CBP data systems later at the port office,” the new rule states.
“CBP will also use the mobile devices to verify the electronically submitted data during the inspection process. The inspecting CBP officer will no longer collect the vessel operator’s signature for the [vessel] master’s certification, as now the act of submitting the data electronically will constitute certification.”
CBP estimated the new rule will save $53.3 million in processing costs between FY2021-25, including $16.1 million for vessel operators and $37.2 million for CBP.
CBP stated that despite providing for a more streamlined system for processing crew manifests, it does not see the rule directly affecting future volume of commercial vessel arrivals and departures.
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