By Mark Edward Nero
A UK-based transport union federation this week called the refusal of shore leave to seafarers on board Hanjin ships in Puget Sound and Southern California a denial of human rights.
The issue initially came up when a visit to the chartered vessel Hanjin Marine near the Port of Seattle by an International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) inspector to check on the crew’s welfare on Sept. 26 after they had waited three weeks for a berth.
The inspection revealed that, although the crew are being paid and there is two months’ food onboard, US Customs and Border Protection was refusing them shore leave.
“I phoned them several times and had others phone them but they still insisted that the crew was a possible threat to try and jump ship due to the Hanjin situation,” ITF inspector Jeff Engels explained. “ I countered with the fact that shore leave was a human right and that the seafarers should not be made to suffer due to the Hanjin situation. They still did not budge.”
“We understand that the last three Hanjin vessels that called in Southern California all had similar issues with shore leave. This is morally and legally unacceptable,” Paddy Crumlin, president and chair of the ITF dockworkers’ section said. “These are professional seafarers, working in a professional manner, carrying out all their tasks responsibly, and hoping that the situation with Hanjin will be rectified without the loss of jobs. Denying them an escape from their work environment is an abuse of humanity. The CBP needs to reconsider and fix this problem now.”
The ITF says it has had its inspectors visit Hanjin ships, unasked, in many countries, and that so far crews are being paid, hoping to retain their jobs, and are in good spirits.
“The only serious exception to this is in the USA where those crews are being refused their legal right to shore leave while in possession of a bona fide visa,” ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel said. “It is an additional stress at a stressful time, and frankly it’s indefensible.”
For it’s part, Customs issued a statement explaining that its officers have discretionary authority to determine if a foreign national crew member meets all admissibility requirements, including their intent to return to the vessel.
Crewmembers who are foreign nationals are typically granted special permission to disembark vessels in situations such as this, under Customs supervision for exigent circumstances, such as to seek medical attention, according to the statement.
“CBP closely monitors these situations, and vessels are authorized to receive supplies. CBP officers regularly conduct crew checks for humanitarian reasons,” the statement read in part. “CBP’s front-line employees perform their duties with professionalism and are mindful of the humanitarian aspects in their mission. CBP regularly meets with vessel captains and vessel owners to discuss current regulations and issues.”