Union Backs Proposal to Improve Shore Leave

 

March 2015

 

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Shore leave and terminal access aren’t just matters of convenience – they’re crucial to maritime safety and the general wellbeing of mariners. They should also be considered part of the cost of doing business as a maritime terminal.

 

Those were some of the primary messages delivered by maritime labor officials Jan. 23 during a public meeting conducted at Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C. The gathering concerned a Coast Guard notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) aimed at making it easier for mariners to go ashore in U.S. ports.

 

SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel spoke on behalf of the union, and he also offered comments for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, where he chairs the Seafarers’ Section. He thanked the agency for proposing the rule, and said it is imperative that if any additional costs arise for making it easier for mariners to go ashore, those costs must not be passed on to seafarers, either directly or indirectly. Heindel added that although that sentiment is consistent with the proposal’s stated intent, unions and other mariner advocates are on guard to make sure that’s how it is implemented.

 

“The concern we have on the labor side and also with the ministry side is that the seafarers have access to shore in a timely manner and at no cost to the seafarer,” Heindel stated. “We think the terminal operators have a responsibility here. They have an obligation to make sure people have access through their terminals.”

 

Heindel also said foreign mariners in particular have “a very, very tough time getting ashore at a lot of different terminals,” and that a balance can be reached between proper security measures and reasonable treatment of seafarers.

 

Other industry leaders also offered remarks, as did representatives from maritime terminals and the seafarers welfare community. Father Sinclair Oubre, an SIU member who runs the Apostleship of the Sea’s Beaumont, Texas, Dioceses, addressed the meeting and stated access should be considered routine for the terminals. He also pointed out, as did others, that reasonable access to shore leave and welfare organizations boosts morale, reduces fatigue, and increases retention rates in the merchant marine.

 

“This proposed rule would be a tremendous advancement over our present situation,” Oubre stated. “It would significantly improve shore leave for seafarers and access to facilities by seafarer welfare agents.

 

He noted the word “flexibility” as it appears in the NPRM, and cautioned “it can be used to delay shore leave and access, or outright deny it. Flexibility and the interpretation of that word in this rule must always be employed in order to expedite shore leave and access.”

 

Oubre, a former member of the Coast Guard’s Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC), continued, “The cost of shore leave and access to the vessel, we believe, is the cost of doing business at a maritime terminal. By the very nature of a maritime terminal, there must be vessels…. Vessels can’t get to a terminal without seafarers…. Access and shore leave issues regarding seafarers in this rule are part of being a maritime facility.”

 

He also said ship visits and access “are part of a larger maritime safety matrix.” There is a direct correlation between reducing fatigue and raising morale, and boosting shore leave and access, Oubre explained.

 

The SIU planned to submit formal comments by the Feb. 27 deadline.

 

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