On August 16, 2018, Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq., Director of SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights, presented the findings of the 2018 Shore Leave Survey to the USCG’s RADM John P. Nadeau, Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy, at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington D.C.
SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights (CSR) started conducting shore leave surveys at the request of the U.S. Coast Guard, and it has conducted them annually since 2001. The surveys have provided a responsible and objective assessment of foreign seafarers’ ability to go on shore leave in the United States. During the survey week, port chaplains from ports around the United States keep records of seafarers’ shore leave on the ships they visit. They then share their data with the Center for Seafarers’ Rights. This year chaplaincies at 23 United States ports visited 338 vessels with 6,444 seafarers on board at over 133 terminals.
The 2018 Shore Leave Survey revealed that 90.9% of the foreign seafarers on ships calling at ports in the United States during the survey week were allowed to go ashore. This data indicated a trend of gradual improvement in seafarers’ access to shore leave in U.S. ports: 90.5% were allowed ashore in the 2017 survey and 89.7% in 2016.
Seafarers are required to have a valid United States visa to apply for shore leave, and their failure to have one continues to be the biggest reason for denying shore leave. However, the percentage of seafarers without visas dropped from 72.9% last year to 58.4% this year. CSR believes that the Maritime Labour Convention’s requirement that shipowners must pay for seafarers’ visas is a factor in this higher percentage of seafarers possessing visas. According to the United States Department of State, very few (only 2.27%) applicants for crewmember visas were denied a visa in 2017.
When ships arrive at a port in the United States from abroad, their crews are inspected by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who determine whether the seafarers will be allowed to enter the United States. CBP denials accounted for 7.5% of the shore leave denials. Seafarers who are authorized entry into the United States by Customs and Border Protection officers are issued a Crewman’s Landing Permit, commonly called a shore pass. Shore passes are valid for up to 29 days. Seafarers who could not go ashore because their shore passes expired after 29 days accounted for 10% of the denials.
Shore leave restrictions imposed by shipping companies or vessels were the reasons for 6.3% of the denials. One shipping company prohibited seafarers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Madagascar and the Philippines from going ashore in the United States.
When seafarers join vessels in U.S. ports they enter the United States on Transit visas. Authorization to enter the United States on a Transit visa expires once seafarers arrive on their vessels. They cannot re-enter the United States until after their vessel returns to the U.S. from a foreign port. Expired Transit visas were the cause of 5.8% of the reported shore leave restrictions.
Port Chaplains also reported any obstacles imposed by terminals on seafarers’ and chaplains’ transits through the terminals. The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 requires terminals to provide a system that enables seafarers and chaplains to transit the terminal in a timely manner at no cost to the individual. While most terminals have initiated procedures in the spirit of the 2010 statute, some terminals remain challenging for seafarers to transit.
Mr. Stevenson and RADM Nadeau shared a productive meeting, RADM Nadeau stated, "The United States Coast Guard greatly values our relationship with the Seamen's Church Institute and other organizations dedicated to seafarer welfare. The annual survey provides valuable insight regarding access for shore leave and highlights some of the current challenges and opportunities. As leaders in the maritime community, it is incumbent upon each of us to recognize the importance of shore leave and access to seafarers' welfare organizations. We must work together to facilitate crew morale, readiness, and personal well-being, while also remaining steadfast in ensuring port security."
To read the full Shore Leave Survey report, see the PDF below: