Picture the scene: you're a merchant seafarer, and you've been out at sea for three weeks. You arrive at a US port and you're hoping to spend just a few hours ashore, away from the ship that is both your workplace and your home for up to 9 months at a stretch. Your vessel's turnaround time in port is under 12 hours, so you'll have to be quick.
You have the appropriate visa and permits for shore leave, but there's a catch. There isn't a free service to transport you from the ship to the gates of the port, and for safety reasons you're not allowed to walk. Do you:
- pay a $75 cab fare for escorts from and to your vessel?
- pool your money with 6 other crewmembers and hire the ship's service to a nearby mall for $200?
- hope your ship has paid the $450 terminal charge for you to cross the dock for shore leave?
- wait for a port chaplain to come to collect you, glad that the ministry they provide is independently funded?
- realize that it's out of hours for the port chaplains, and you'll have to stay aboard ship?
Believe it or not, seafarers arriving in US ports can face all of these scenarios to some degree or another, and they are the ones who are granted shore leave.
The sixteenth annual Shore Leave Survey conducted by the Seamen's Church Institute is now available. The survey examines cases where seafarers face difficulty getting ashore despite having the right paperwork, but it also focuses on those who arrive into port and are not allowed to leave their vessel at all. In it you can review statistics on the numbers of seafarers who are denied shore leave by nationality or flag state, the reasons for that denial of shore leave, and the trends over time shown by the data.
It should be said, however, that the majority of seafarers DO manage to get ashore: for the most part, whenever they are unable to do so it is due to issues with their visa. It appears from the survey that Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 requirements for ship owners to pay for visas for their employees are still not being fully implemented, which means that at times seafarers are denied their chance at shore leave because of visa irregularities outside their control.
The results of the survey also underline the importance of seafarer ministry organizations, often the only groups with the permissions and capability to transport seafarers from ship to shore without charging them exorbitant fees. However, it seems that some US port terminals continue to create obstacles for chaplains accessing ships in order to provide such services to seafarers. While the situation has improved from years past, issues still exist. This is why organizations such as the Seamen’s Church Institute maintain a crucial role in modern seafaring.