In response to its assessment that the MT Grace I was assisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by transporting oil from Iran to Syria, the United States Department of State recently announced its intention to revoke visas from seafarers who are employed on ships that assist the IRGC by transporting oil from Iran to Syria. SCI believes that such an action by the Department of State would unfairly penalize seafarers and jeopardize maritime safety and security.
Most seafarers working on commercial tankers are employed on contracts of up to twelve month’s duration. Typically, oil tankers do not operate on regular schedules or routes. Rather, tankers’ routes are determined by individual charters that are arranged by the vessels’ owners or operators. Because tankers’ cargos and routings are determined by vessel owners or operators, seafarers have no say in their vessel’s routes or cargos. They are, however, obligated to live up to their employment contracts. Seafarers who refuse to work on their vessels would breach their employment contract thereby jeopardizing their careers. One exception to this rule is that some seafarers’ employment contracts allow seafarers to refuse to work on a ship that will go into a declared war zone. Seafarers could also be subjected to administrative or criminal penalties for refusing to work while at sea.
Global trade and maritime security depend on seafarers who operate merchant vessels. Shore leave is essential to seafarers' well-being and vessels' safe operations. In addition, seafarers may play a key role as essential members of the domain awareness security team through their ability to identify suspicious activity and report to the authorities. Seafarers have proven themselves to be valuable and reliable security assets. Treating them as if they were maritime security risks is counter-productive.
SCI urges the Department of State to review its draconian policy of revoking visas from seafarers who have no ability to influence their vessels' cargos or routings. This policy jeopardizes maritime safety and security.
Update 8/23/19: SCI mailed letters to President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo stating our position. The letters may be viewed in their entirety in the pdfs below.