Nautilus International has signed a letter calling on the United States Congress to solve crew change problems, after seafarers were prevented from leaving their ships to fly home – even in cases where they were permitted to do so under US regulations.
American unions who are leading this effort include the International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots and the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, both of which are affiliates of the Nautilus Federation. Several other organisations have signed, including the International Maritime Employers’ Council and the Chamber of Shipping of America.
Although crews with the requisite paperwork are exempt from Covid-19 border restrictions following a presidential proclamation in May, some seafarers have been prevented from carrying out crew changes altogether and in other cases Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials have required that seafarers be constantly guarded or that their ship remain in port until the crewmembers' flights home have taken off.
The letter was sent to the leaders of the congressional committees with jurisdiction over US CBP: Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs and Senator Gary Peters, ranking member; and to Representative Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Representative Mike Rogers, ranking member.
The letter asks the CBP to ensure all crew change requests are granted at any port requested, unless specific intelligence suggests an individual seafarer may pose a security threat.
'CBP personnel cite security concerns as a primary rationale for denying repatriation requests but despite multiple requests over the years, CBP will not provide data that supports treating every repatriating mariner as a threat to national security,' the group wrote.
The signatories further request that:
- repatriating crew be allowed to take flights with domestic connections to expand options for seafarers to return home as quickly as possible. This should apply for the duration of the pandemic, and perhaps longer
- if CBP grants a repatriation request and the flight is missed or cancelled, CBP should allow overnight hotel stays so the crewmember can board the next available flight, the on-signing seafarer can join the ship, and the ship can continue on its voyage as scheduled
- CBP should allow for innovative solutions to the worsening problem, such as allowing seafarer welfare organisations or others to charter flights for groups of mariners without the normal restrictions
- CBP give field personnel leeway to implement these suggestions and standardise procedures wherever possible.