by David C. Gibbons, Intern, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) Center for Seafarers’ Rights, with the assistance of North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA) and other seafarer ministries throughout the United States, conducted its fourteenth annual Seafarer Shore Leave Survey during the week of May 23–29, 2015. The survey aimed to identify difficulties encountered by seafarers in accessing shore leave. Survey administrators recorded data from nearly 9,500 seafarers on over 400 vessels in 27 ports, reporting that 1,642 seafarers (17.3%) from 128 vessels (29%) were denied shore leave. An overwhelming majority (79%) of these seafarers were denied shore leave because they did not have valid visas. Other reasons for shore leave denials included seafarers who remained on their vessels in United States waters for more than 29 days (7%), vessel operations (5%), terminal restrictions (4%), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) restrictions (1%), and seafarers who entered the United States on C-1 transit visas and were detained on board after joining their vessels (1%).
Compared to last year’s survey, this year’s data shows an increase in shore leave denials for both percentage of ships with at least one seafarer denied shore leave and in the percentage of seafarers denied shore leave. In 2014, approximately 23.3% of the ships had at least one crewmember denied shore leave, and 11.2% of seafarers on the surveyed ships were denied shore leave.
The United States requires non-American seafarers to obtain crewmember visas to apply for shore leave. This directly conflicts with the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL), of which the United States is a member, prohibiting visa requirements for seafarers. Of the 1,642 seafarers denied shore leave in this year’s survey, 1,300 (79%) did not have a valid visa. The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006), which came into effect two years ago, requires shipowners to pay for seafarers’ visas. Of the 1,300 seafarers denied shore leave for lack of a valid visa, at least 418 (32%) were from countries that have ratified the MLC, 2006 and have an obligation to ensure seafarers have visas. The survey also reveals flag states who have not held shipowners accountable. Of the 1,044 seafarers without visas, 1,300 were on vessels registered in MLC, 2006 member states.
Currently, terminal restrictions present an obstacle for seafarers looking to obtain shore leave. The ability of seafarers to transit through a terminal—a necessity to utilize shore leave—varies from terminal to terminal. For safety reasons, many terminals do not permit pedestrian traffic. Some terminals rely on seafarer welfare organizations to provide shuttle transportation through the terminal; however, if chaplains are not available, seafarers might not have any other options. Other terminals allow private security companies to escort seafarers through the terminal at a cost anywhere from $50 to $500. Some terminals allow seafarers to use the same shuttles as their longshoremen; however, if there are no longshore operations, seafarers may not be able to leave or return to their vessels. And, still, some terminals deny transit to seafarers and chaplains altogether. On December 29, 2014, the United States Coast Guard proposed a new rule, which, if implemented, would require terminals to provide timely transit through the terminal at no cost to seafarers. If the Coast Guard’s proposed rule is implemented, it will significantly improve the quality of life for seafarers, while allowing individual terminals’ discretion on how best to implement the rule at their location.
Shore leave is not only critical for the health and well-being of seafarers but also for productive and safe vessel operations. Seafarers live out their professional lives on board a ship; they work, live, eat, sleep, and socialize with the same twenty-some other crewmembers for the duration of their contract. Their only respite from these confines comes at the opportunity for shore leave.
Download the complete survey results below.