Crew Issues

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  • 1. Crew Issues

Crew Issues

First and foremost, all crew calling US ports are to have a valid seaman’s visa type C1 (for entry by sea) or C1/D1 for entry by sea and air (by air for repatriations). It is not possible to apply for a US visa within a US port, visa applications must be made at foreign embassies, due to application requirements such as personal interviews and the time required for the overall process, it’s most common that seafarers must apply for US visa’s in their home countries while on leave. Due to cost and expense of the visa application process, including travel to the nearest embassy, unless supported by the crewing agency or owners, often many seafarers are not able to obtain US visas. If the crewman does not have a valid US visa, they will be detained onboard, regardless of nationality, this is standard across the board in any us port for a merchant cargo vessel. No longer do “visa crew lists” or “visa waivers” exist for foreign sailors except in the rare instance of passenger’s vessels that are “signatory carriers” and eligible to take advantage of the visa waiver program similar to air carriers (only for certain nationalities) Once detained, USCG and/or CBP may or may not order armed guards and/or unarmed watchmen to attend the vessel for the duration of her call at expense of the head owners, disponet owners or charterers of the vessel. If crew onboard detain or not, if the crewmen are from “annex VI” countries (ref. 68 FR 2363 16 jan 2003) which are almost exclusively nations with citizens that are by majority Islamic in faith, e.g. Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon, etc. or North Korea, then additional restrictions such as requirement to submit “crew control security” plans prior port entry, offshore security boarding’s, and/or additional guards/watchmen may be applicable as a result of having crewmen onboard from annex VI targeted nations. For whatever reason, in our experience, although not on the annex VI list of countries, ships with Chinese or Turkish citizens onboard lacking US visa’s are also targeted and often receive additional restrictions as explained above. The guard issue is of great frustration to the ship owning community, as very little consistency exists between US ports. In some ports the matter is under control of the USCG COTP, others the District Direct of Customs. Written policy and orders to support the ordering of the guards are often confusing, vague, or non existent (verbal orders) which not only makes it difficult for us as agents to support/collect the guard expenses from owners not familiar with US security issues. Furthermore the expense of the additional security requirements are often subject to arbitration between owners and charterers, in our opinion the standard BIMCO ISPS clause does not adequately address the matter, or at least, it’s certainly often argued. It’s not even specifically clear, or at least, easily referenced, under which federal regulations grant USCG and/or CBP to authority to take such actions. As example, in the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, Georgia, if guards are ordered, they are to be armed licensed law enforcement officers. Costs of which can be upwards of $1350 per 24 hours per officer. The decision to order armed guards or not, or how many, rests at the discretion of District Direct of Customs, however often a lower level duty supervisor is tasked with making the analysis if guard(s) should be ordered or not. There is no written policy or memorandum of agreement between CBP and USCG available to the trade public regarding the guard policy. In Savannah, not even a written order is issued, Brunswick, although under the same command, will however issue a short statement on government letterhead confirming the guard order. However past that, there appears to be no consistent policy by Savannah and Brunswick Customs on which ships require guards and why they require guards is never specifically spelled out. We have been told a number of factors go in to their tough process, such as previous port’s of call, number of detained crew onboard, nationality, and even their “opinion” of the level and quality of the facility security at which the vessel will moor. As example, last winter, we handled a Turkish tanker in Savannah that had detained crew onboard and two armed guards were ordered. Then this following summer, the same tanker returned to Savannah, with some different crew, but still mostly lacking US visa’s and no guards were required. Sometimes they order guards for Chinese crews, sometimes not. We even had one vessel in Savannah, where due to a slow mooring and poor dockside gangway access (facility issues beyond the crews control) the Customs officer was angry he was made to wait so long for the ship to tie up and they could not provide better gangway access, once onboard, he detained all the Pilipino crew (even through they had valid visa’s) stated reason was they were “Malified”. Then his supervisor verbally ordered an armed guard due to the detained crew onboard. In the Ports of Jacksonville and Fernandina, Florida, we at least have a written policy jointly issued by CBP and USCG...

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