by Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq., Director, Center for Seafarers' Rights
JULY 20-27, 2008 SHORE LEAVE SURVEY
The Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey (SCI) has conducted annual surveys of seafarers’ shore leave detentions and restrictions on seafarers’ and chaplains’ access through terminals in United States ports since 2002. During the week of 20 through 27 July 2008, seafarers’ centers in thirty-four United States ports and one Canadian port participated in the survey, with twenty three ports detailing instances of shore leave denial or terminals imposed restrictions on chaplains’ or seafarers’ access through the terminals.
The 20-27 July 2008 survey revealed that on approximately 20% of the ships visited, one or more seafarers were not allowed shore leave. U.S. visa requirements remain the greatest obstacle to shore leave in the United States. Some reports indicated that time and travel constraints limited some seafarers’ ability to obtain required visas. Other cited reasons for shore leave denials included high fees charged by terminals for transportation or escort through the terminals, and restrictions imposed by vessel operators. Terminals that impose conditions on access, such as exorbitant security or escort fees, effectively deny seafarers and chaplains access through the terminals. Further, in several ports, chaplains depend upon ships’ agents to provide them authorization to access ships. This potentially bars access to ships that need visits the most – ‘problem ships’ operated by those seek to limit any outside intervention.
Analysis of the survey data attempts to discern relationships between denial of shore leave and the types of vessels with detained crewmembers, nationalities of detained seafarers, and reasons why shore leave was denied.