August 9, 2005
UK Club warning on U.S. visa requirements
The UK P&I Club is warning about the need for total compliance with U.S. crew visa requirements.
A foreign crew member does not need a visa to sail to the U.S., but will not be able to leave the vessel without one.
The U.S. Customs and Border Service and the U.S. Coast Guard have set up standard operating procedures to identify high risk crew members and ensure effective security measures are in place so they cannot leave the vessel once ordered detained.
The UK Club's latest newsletter reports a recent case involving a UK Club-covered general cargo vessel that arrived in Houston.
None of the Thai crew had a visa. Consequently, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer cleared the vessel but ordered the crew detained on board.
Shortly after, stores and provisions for the vessel were delivered to the dock alongside. As the stevedores were taking their lunch break, several crew members began loading the stores and provisions onto their ship while another hooked up the fresh water pipe from dock to vessel. All this took less than 30 minutes. The crew returned on board and stayed there for the remainder of the ship's stay in the U.S. However, a Customs and Border Protection Officer had observed the loading from a nearby vessel.
A Notice of Intention to Fine under the Immigration and Nationality Act was issued to the vessel's agent. It named the crew members and assessed a substantial penalty for failure to detain alien crew. The vessel had already sailed. If it had not, a security would have had to be deposited to allow departure.
A written defense on behalf of the ship owner and agent pointed out that the violation was inadvertent, that the actions taken concerned the immediate needs of the vessel and that there were no other incidents involving vessel and crew.
The Customs and Border Protection Service acknowledged the circumstances and the lack of specific intent to violate the law. The agency refused to withdraw the fine but reduced it substantially.