Union, ITF Weigh in on Shore Leave Proposal

 

April 2015

 

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As planned, the SIU, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and other maritime labor and mariner welfare organizations have formally submitted comments on a proposed rule from the U.S. Coast Guard designed to facilitate shore leave and terminal access.

 

SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel commented on behalf of the union, and he also weighed in for the ITF, where he chairs the Seafarers’ Section. The deadline for commenting on the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) was Feb. 27.

 

The SIU submission read in part, “The proposed rule implements Section 811 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 which requires owners and operators of a maritime facility regulated by the Coast Guard to implement a security policy that provides seafarers and other designated personnel with access between vessels moored at the facility and the port’s entrance/exit in a timely manner and at no cost to the seafarer. The SIU welcomes the proposed rule and opines that this effort is long overdue.

 

“For too long, merchant mariners have been restricted, denied or charged exorbitant fees for access to shore after lengthy voyages at sea, diminishing their quality of life and ability to seek needed welfare services and personal contact with family and friends,” the SIU commentary continued. “This situation is patently unwarranted, unreasonable and a direct assault on the mariner’s human rights and dignity. Shore leave and terminal access are just not matters of convenience; they are crucial to maritime safety and the general wellbeing of mariners. When fully and consistently implemented, we believe that the proposed rule will be a tremendous advancement and improvement over the present situation.”

 

The SIU went on to say it is imperative that if any additional costs arise from making it easier for a mariner to go ashore, those costs must not be passed on to the seafarer, either directly or indirectly. Although that sentiment is consistent with the proposed rule’s intent as well as the aim of Congress, the union said it “will remain vigilant that the Coast Guard will fully enforce this mandate.”

 

Additionally, the SIU stated current security policies at many terminals have impeded mariners’ access to shore: “The SIU believes that a balance must be struck between security, safety, and the dignity of mariners. We are optimistic that the proposed rule will achieve that goal.”

 

The ITF submission read in part, “The ITF applauds the Coast Guard’s current regulatory effort in promulgating this long overdue and imperative proposed rule which will require each owner or operator of a facility regulated by the Coast Guard to implement a system that provides seafarers and other individuals with access between vessels moored at the facility and the facility gate, in a timely manner and at no cost to the seafarer or other individuals. For too long, seafarers, especially non- U.S. crews, have been denied or restricted access to shore leave. Although we certainly acknowledge and fully support the need for port security, denial of unimpeded and unduly restrictive access for seafarers to maritime facilities has not only proved detrimental to the health and emotional security of the mariner and diminished their quality of life, but may have in many instances hampered continued efficient vessel operations and the maritime transportation system itself.

 

“As a non-governmental organization to the International Maritime Organization, the ITF fully participated in deliberations that drafted the International Ship and Port Security Code (ISPS) initiated by the United States after the unimaginable and horrific September 11, 2001 terrorist attack against American citizens on American soil,” the federation continued. “Support for the Code was overwhelming in the realization that the security of all nations was vulnerable. As a result, the 2002 Code forms the basis for the current port and vessel security system worldwide. Notwithstanding the overall security benefits of the ISPS Code, the security regime has over the years created a number of problems for the merchant mariner – one which is the subject of this proposed rule.”

 

The submission goes on to note that ISPS implementation has not been consistent across the U.S. For example, current regulations (33 CFR 105.200(b)(9)) require facility owners to “coordinate” shore leave for vessel personnel. The ITF said the use of the word “coordinate” does not accurately reflect provisions of the ISPS Code which requires facility owners and operators to “facilitate” shore leave for merchant mariners.

 

According to the federation, “The current phraseology changed the intent of the ISPS Code herein and created a non-conformity or loophole which permits port facilities to avoid their obligations to seafarers and vessels in a security regime. The proposed rule amends the current rule by changing the words ‘coordination of a system’ to ‘implementation of a system.’ The ITF recommends current 33 CFR 105.200(b)(9) be amended to reflect concise language found in the ISPS Code, i.e., facilitation of a system. Ensuring facilitation will, in our view, effectively close this significant loophole in implementing the intent of the ISPS Code.”

 

After reviewing the recent history of shore leave post 2001, the submission goes on to say:

 

“This historical perspective leads the ITF to commend the Coast Guard in this current regulatory effort and notes that the proposed rule addresses many of the concerns of the national and international maritime seafaring community. The ITF has been engaged in the access to shore leave issue since 2001 and is pleased that the Coast Guard has responded favorably to the concerns of the seafarer. We are pleased to support the tenets of the proposed rule with certain clarifications and modifications. Several clarifications have been suggested heretofore in the earlier portion of these comments. With several further changes to the proposed rule, we believe that an equitable balance will be struck between maritime security and the human dignity of seafarers.”

 

The SIU is one of the approximately 700 unions affiliated with the ITF, which is based in London. Collectively, those unions represent more than 4.5 million transport workers from 150 countries.

 

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