Far from a luxury, shore leave significantly contributes to a mariners’ health and the safe and efficient operation of a vessel. The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) took the pulse of seafarers’ access to shore leave for the twelfth year in a row as part of its annual Seafarer Shore Leave Survey, asking port welfare workers in 30 ports across the United States to monitor arriving vessels. Results show the vast majority of recorded shore leave denials stemmed from seafarers lacking visas.
Seafarers face several barriers to obtaining shore leave, mostly—according to results of SCI’s Survey—involving the constraints of “red tape.” While a United States Coast Guard October 2009 directive to Captains of the Port has improved seafarers’ ability “to board and depart the vessel through the facility in a timely manner at no cost to the individual,” other bureaucratic restrictions limit seafarers—even where seafarer welfare and labor organizations operate—from leaving vessels while in port.
The United States—unlike most other countries in the world—requires foreign crewmembers to have a visa to go ashore. Foreign seafarers wishing to apply for shore leave in the United States must first obtain a D-1 crewmember visa at a US Consulate before arriving in a US port, paying a visa application fee of $160. Seafarers without visas—although often only yards away from terminal gates when they arrive in port—cannot step off their ships to access local stores, telephones or Internet connections.
To gain access to areas outside of the port, many seafarers must rely on transport from local sources. Seafarer welfare organizations like SCI provide free-of-charge escorted transportation. At times, however, when either restricted by a terminal operator or when other resources are unavailable, seafarers must pay a private company to escort them through the terminal.
The results of SCI’s Shore Leave Survey document terminal policies that affect chaplains’ or seafarers’ access and other restrictions preventing shore leave. The Report also offers observations on how to alleviate some of the issues. Download the complete survey results here.
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