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August 28, 2002

Shipowners protest INS treatment of seafarers

A new "Round Table of Maritime Associations" comprised of BIMCO, ICS, INTERTANKO and INTERCARGO has been joined by the ISF (the international Shipping Federation) in submitting a joint industry appeal to United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner James W. Ziglar raising serious concerns regarding the treatment of seafarers and ships arriving at U.S .ports.

During recent months the INS has instructed the US Coast Guard to require security guards on certain vessels in order to prevent ships' crew from leaving their vessels. As a result, many seafarers are being denied shore leave and private security guards with limited or no maritime training have been placed on board ships to enforce such restrictions.

There appears to be little consistency with respect to the enforcement of such measures. Whilst the crew containments and security guard requirements may be strictly enforced at one port, the affected ship with the same crew on board may find that no such requirements are enforced at the next U.S. port of call.

Citing such inconsistencies, the industry appeal points out that such practices are unfair and discriminatory to those concerned.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice,  the United States State Department, the Department of Transportation and the United States Coast Guard have also been informed of the industry's positions.

It is hoped that the appeal will open a constructive dialogue between the U.S. authorities and the shipping industry that will lead to improvements in the treatment of seafarers and ships arriving at U.S.. ports.

The appeal reads:.

Dear Commissioner Ziglar,

Re: The treatment of seafarers and ships arriving at US ports

The treatment of seafarers and ships trading to US ports by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and related agencies has created a situation in which the industry is unified in its concerns and in its resolve to make those concerns heard.

There is no question that the tragic events of 11 September 2001 have changed the way in which international commerce will function. The vulnerabilities of airports were blatantly exposed, and subsequently certain vulnerabilities at seaports have also been identified.

However, in the meantime, significant progress has been made to reduce these vulnerabilities.

At the International Maritime Organization, industry organisations have worked together with national delegations towards the establishment of enhanced maritime security, specifically through amendments to be made to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention. Many of these amendments are based on proposals made by the United States. For the most part these amendments are balanced proposals under which the responsibilities to improve security are shared by ships and ports alike.

More particularly, parallel discussions to revise the international regime on crew identification are taking place in the International Labour Organization, with a view to revision of ILO Convention 108. Here again, the United States has played a prominent part in the continuing discussions.

In comparison with the measures contained in the planned amendments to the SOLAS convention and the ILO Convention 108, measures being taken at several US ports are creating real hardships for ship's crews and major problems for ship operators.

The detention of crew on ships

A ship is a confined space, and crew that have been at sea for extended periods of time have traditionally been entitled to shore leave. Whilst it is understood that certain circumstances warrant limitations on the movements of persons in and around ports, such restrictions should only be implemented when a real threat exists. Unfortunately, reports indicate that crews have been detained on board their ships at US ports with increasing frequency, often on the sole basis of their nationality and in the absence of information indicating a real or imminent threat to the port and its surroundings. This is not only unfair and discriminatory to those concerned, but it also appears to be largely random and inconsistent in its application, making it impossible for shipping companies to minimise the inconvenience to themselves and their crews in a planned manner.

Requirement for Security Guards to protect port facilities

In certain cases where crew have been denied the facility of shore leave INS and Coast Guard officials have assigned private security guards to prevent unauthorised movements. Again, the basis for requiring such security guards seems unclear, the practice appearing to be carried out on an ad hoc and inconsistent basis, thus exacerbating the uncertainties faced by the ship's master and his shipping company.

Furthermore, the costs of the hire of the security guards are charged to the shipowner, not to the supposed beneficiary of the enhanced port security, namely the port and its employees, terminal operators, longshoremen, shippers and the general public.

The amounts involved are by no means trivial and have served to underline the growing concern in the international shipping industry that ships' crews are becoming the indiscriminate scapegoat in the fight against terrorism.

Having drawn your attention to the industry's concerns, we now seek your agreement to meeting with a delegation representing the organisations listed below in order to discuss and identify mutually satisfactory solutions that will address these concerns.

Yours faithfully,

Truls W. L'orange Secretary General of BIMCO on behalf of:

The international shipping industry as represented by:

BIMCO, The Baltic and International Maritime Council ICS, The International Chamber of Shipping INTERTANKO, The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners INTERCARGO, The International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners ISF, The International Shipping Federation

These organisations together represent all segments of the industry including the owners and managers of all types of ships and the majority of seafarers.

Official responses to this appeal may be sent to BIMCO for further circulation amongst fellow cosignatories.

BIMCO                                           Phone: +45 44366800 Bagsvaerdvej 161                                Fax:     +45 44366868 2880 Bagsvaerd                          E-mail: Denmark

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