SCI contributes to USCG's final rules on shore leave access for seafarers

Apr 9, 2019

On April 1, 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) published final regulations on seafarers’, chaplains’, and other persons’ access through marine terminals, culminating advocacy efforts by the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) that started in 2001. The final regulations will require marine terminals to implement a system providing seafarers, pilots, and representatives of seamen’s welfare and labor organizations with access between vessels at the facility and the facility gate in a timely manner, and at no cost to the individuals.

The September 11, 2001 attacks awakened the maritime world to the vulnerability of seaports and the necessity for greater security measures to protect ports against terrorist attacks. In the Port of New York and New Jersey and other US ports, USCG imposed a variety of security restrictions, including prohibiting all seafarers from departing their ships, which lasted for about a month.

While these strict restrictions were in place, SCI chaplains were allowed to visit seafarers confined to their vessels, providing invaluable services during this extremely tense time. Our chaplains helped seafarers communicate with their families to let them know that they were safe and well, gave reliable information about conditions, and dispelled unhelpful rumors. They were a reassuring, calming influence on seafarers and the port community alike.

Based on its experience in the Port of New York and New Jersey, SCI was uniquely placed to influence the development of post 9/11 security laws and regulations. SCI’s position was (and still is) simple: seafarers should be viewed as “eyes and ears” within the wider maritime security team rather than potential terrorists; seafarers should be allowed to transit terminals to go on shore leave; and chaplains should have access to vessels in port, especially during heightened security conditions. SCI advocated its position with the Coast Guard, Congress, and the International Maritime Organization. It also encouraged other seafarer welfare organizations to advocate the position in maritime security committees in their ports.

SCI’s concerns were reflected in the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act and the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. Both of these required port facilities to implement security plans that enabled access to shore leave for ship’s personnel, as well as visitor access to ships in port, including for representatives of seafarer welfare organizations.

SCI monitored seafarers’ shore leave through annual shore leave surveys based on data reported by chaplains from American ports. The surveys revealed that most restrictions on seafarers were due to two main causes: seafarers not having visas, and private terminals denying access through their terminals. The vague requirements for facilities to accommodate access for seafarers and chaplains in their facility security plans did not adequately deter some facilities from creating obstacles for seafarers and chaplains. SCI then advocated legislation to provide more specific guidance to facilities and the USCG. This was accomplished in the 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act, which required facilities to “provide a system for seamen assigned to a vessel at that facility, pilots, and representatives of seamen’s welfare and labor organizations to board and depart the vessel through the facility in a timely manner at no cost to the individual”.

The 2010 USCG Authorization Act tasked the Coast Guard with promulgating regulations to implement the statutory requirements. The Coast Guard published the first draft of the regulations and requested comments from the public in a notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) on December 29, 2014. SCI provided updated shore leave surveys and detailed recommendations for the Final Rule. The Final Rule, published on April 1, 2019 will take effect on May 1, 2019. The Coast Guard noted in the publication of the Final Rule that it had relied on SCI’s shore leave surveys and recommendations in preparing the NPRM and Final Rule.