SHIPPING BODIES COMPLAIN ABOUT DETENTION OF SEAFARERS IN U.S. PORTS
Five international organizations that represent shipowners and seafarers have written to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner James W. Ziglar to express concern over the detention of seafarers on ships arriving at U.S. ports caused by tighter security measures.
The Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO), the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO) and the International Shipping Federation (ISF) are making a common appeal to the INS.
In a joint letter sent to the INS in Washington and copied to the State Department, Department of Transportation and U.S. Coast Guard, the shipping organizations said: “Whilst it is understood that certain circumstances warrant limitations on the movements of persons in and around ports, such restrictions should only be implemented when a real threat exists.”
During recent months, the INS has instructed the U.S. Coast Guard to require security guards on certain vessels to prevent ships’ crew from leaving their vessels. “As a result, many seafarers are being denied shore leave and private security guards with limited or no maritime training have been placed on board ships to enforce such restrictions,” the shipping associations said.
A ship is a confined space, and crew that have been at sea for extended periods of time have traditionally been entitled to shore leave, the associations said.
Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Coast Guard has restricted access for seafarers of certain nationalities.
“Unfortunately, reports indicate that crews have been detained on board their ships at U.S. ports with increasing frequency, often on the sole basis of their nationality and in the absence of information indicating a real or imminent threat to the port and its surroundings,” the shipping organizations said.
They described these measures as unfair and discriminatory.
The shipping organizations also said that there appears to be little consistency with respect to the enforcement of such measures. The crew detention and security guard requirements may be strictly enforced at one port, but the same ship and crew may find no such requirements at the next U.S. port of call, they said.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice, the State Department, the Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard have also been informed of the industry’s positions.
The shipping organizations said that they hope that the appeal “will open a constructive dialogue between the U.S. authorities and the shipping industry that will lead to improvements in the treatment of seafarers and ships arriving at U.S. ports.”
The five industry associations accept that the events of Sept. 11 have changed the way in which international commerce will function.
They cited multilateral initiatives made at the International Maritime Organization to enhance maritime security, and discussions to revise the international regime on crew identification that are taking place at the International Labour Organization.
“In comparison with the measures contained in the planned amendments to the (IMO) SOLAS convention and the ILO Convention 108, measures being taken at several U.S. ports are creating real hardships for ship’s crews, and major problems for ship operators,” the shipping organizations said.
The industry associations also questioned the fact that the costs of hiring security guards are charged to the shipowner, “not to the supposed beneficiary of the enhanced port security — namely the port and its employees, terminal operators, longshoremen, shippers and the general public.”