First and foremost, all crew calling US ports are to have a valid seaman’s visa type C1 (for entry by sea) or C1/D1 for entry by sea and air (by air for repatriations).
It is not possible to apply for a US visa within a US port, visa applications must be made at foreign embassies, due to application requirements such as personal interviews and the time required for the overall process, it’s most common that seafarers must apply for US visa’s in their home countries while on leave. Due to cost and expense of the visa application process, including travel to the nearest embassy, unless supported by the crewing agency or owners, often many seafarers are not able to obtain US visas.
If the crewman does not have a valid US visa, they will be detained onboard, regardless of nationality, this is standard across the board in any us port for a merchant cargo vessel.
No longer do “visa crew lists” or “visa waivers” exist for foreign sailors except in the rare instance of passenger’s vessels that are “signatory carriers” and eligible to take advantage of the visa waiver program similar to air carriers (only for certain nationalities)
Once detained, USCG and/or CBP may or may not order armed guards and/or unarmed watchmen to attend the vessel for the duration of her call at expense of the head owners, disponet owners or charterers of the vessel.
If crew onboard detain or not, if the crewmen are from “annex VI” countries (ref. 68 FR 2363 16 jan 2003) which are almost exclusively nations with citizens that are by majority Islamic in faith, e.g. Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon, etc. or North Korea, then additional restrictions such as requirement to submit “crew control security” plans prior port entry, offshore security boarding’s, and/or additional guards/watchmen may be applicable as a result of having crewmen onboard from annex VI targeted nations.
For whatever reason, in our experience, although not on the annex VI list of countries, ships with Chinese or Turkish citizens onboard lacking US visa’s are also targeted and often receive additional restrictions as explained above.
The guard issue is of great frustration to the ship owning community, as very little consistency exists between US ports. In some ports the matter is under control of the USCG COTP, others the District Direct of Customs. Written policy and orders to support the ordering of the guards are often confusing, vague, or non existent (verbal orders) which not only makes it difficult for us as agents to support/collect the guard expenses from owners not familiar with US security issues. Furthermore the expense of the additional security requirements are often subject to arbitration between owners and charterers, in our opinion the standard BIMCO ISPS clause does not adequately address the matter, or at least, it’s certainly often argued. It’s not even specifically clear, or at least, easily referenced, under which federal regulations grant USCG and/or CBP to authority to take such actions.
As example, in the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, Georgia, if guards are ordered, they are to be armed licensed law enforcement officers. Costs of which can be upwards of $1350 per 24 hours per officer. The decision to order armed guards or not, or how many, rests at the discretion of District Direct of Customs, however often a lower level duty supervisor is tasked with making the analysis if guard(s) should be ordered or not. There is no written policy or memorandum of agreement between CBP and USCG available to the trade public regarding the guard policy. In Savannah, not even a written order is issued, Brunswick, although under the same command, will however issue a short statement on government letterhead confirming the guard order.
However past that, there appears to be no consistent policy by Savannah and Brunswick Customs on which ships require guards and why they require guards is never specifically spelled out. We have been told a number of factors go in to their tough process, such as previous port’s of call, number of detained crew onboard, nationality, and even their “opinion” of the level and quality of the facility security at which the vessel will moor. As example, last winter, we handled a Turkish tanker in Savannah that had detained crew onboard and two armed guards were ordered. Then this following summer, the same tanker returned to Savannah, with some different crew, but still mostly lacking US visa’s and no guards were required. Sometimes they order guards for Chinese crews, sometimes not.
We even had one vessel in Savannah, where due to a slow mooring and poor dockside gangway access (facility issues beyond the crews control) the Customs officer was angry he was made to wait so long for the ship to tie up and they could not provide better gangway access, once onboard, he detained all the Pilipino crew (even through they had valid visa’s) stated reason was they were “Malified”. Then his supervisor verbally ordered an armed guard due to the detained crew onboard.
In the Ports of Jacksonville and Fernandina, Florida, we at least have a written policy jointly issued by CBP and USCG, where if any crew are detained onboard, regardless of number or crew, nationality or facility, one unarmed watchmen is required, as cost $720 per 24 hours per watchman unless the crew are from an annex VI country, in which case upwards of three armed guards may be required.
However, there is a limited pool of armed guards available and on the public JAXPORT facility, terminal regulations require the armed guards must be licensed law enforcement officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which are difficult and costly to obtain, and have often not reported as ordered for overtime duty resulting in unfavorable actions to the vessel by Homeland Security, as it’s considered the vessels responsibility to contract the officers and ensure their attendance.
Like in Georgia Ports, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s (or Nassau County for Fernandina Port) have no MTSA or ISPS training, nor any knowledge of immigrations procedures and regulations, such as examining a seaman’s nationality and immigration documents for shore leave.
Nationwide, the issues are the same more or less, if the vessel has crew onboard without valid US visa’s they will be ordered to provide guards, but the documentation, application and expense varies greatly and are generally subject to discretion of the local USCG and/or CBP commands.
Generally, in the Ports of Savannah, Brunswick, Fernandina and Jacksonville crew repatriations are possible under normal conditions.
Neither of these ports have an inner anchorage, so generally due to limited launch tender services or ability to obtain customs clearances at outer anchorages off the sea buoy, crew changes are not possible till the vessels arrives alongside.
This is another loaded topic. All persons entering the restricted port facility must have a valid TWIC badge or be escorted by a TWIC badge holder. It’s generally not possible for foreign seaman to obtain TWIC badges, mostly due to the complexity and the time required to complete the application process.
Past that point, there is no consistent policy on how to handle TWIC escorts for seafarer shore leave. Official crew repatriations are coordinated by the agent using approved transportation vendors capable of performing the TWIC escort. However shore leave is a difficult topic as often the official agency transport companies are too expensive ($65-75 per hour) or do not have the resources to designate drivers for shore leave. There is often limited taxi drivers capable of obtaining facility access or capable of performing TWIC escorts. As a result, this has placed a strain on Seaman’s Ministries and Welfare organizations who also have the same difficulty with facility access and volunteer staffing.
For the most part, although mandated by federal law to allow shore leave for seafarers, most facilities do not offer their security officers for shore leave escorts or have cumbersome policies regarding
approval for third party TWIC escorts.
As a result, the TWIC regulations are so confusing, inconsistent and cumbersome in application, or due to the high cost or limited availability of TWIC escorts, many seafarers do not find it possible to go ashore even if they have a valid US visa or simply lack the desire to do so when faced with all the hurdles associated with shore leave in US ports.
Often the ships owners do not give the crew properly laminated photo company id’s, or they are made onboard by remedial means, in any case no ship board or company id really has any true official nature and often citizens of other nationals do not have nicely laminated photo identity cards or drivers licenses like we American’s do.
It’s unclear if the requirement for a “laminated id” is an interpretation of nomenclature included in the facility security plan approved by the USCG or some ad-hock requirement of the Savannah district director of customs.
As a result, shore leave at some facilities for some vessels has been denied due some guard not being satisfied with the “quality” of lamination on the seafarers ship’s id card, quoting unknown customs regulations, or in other cases, shore leave was denied for sailors that joined the vessel in a US port by air and were not issued a i-95 shore pass, as they are holding a i-94 card issued by their airport of arrival and the facility guard, again, untrained in immigration procedures and regulations, yet tasked to enforce them, refused the sailor shore leave.
Jacksonville has a port ministry and seamans center at the Blount Island Marine Terminal, but often due to staffing or access issues, their services are unavailable at the ports other facilities.
Fernandina has a husband and wife team acting as a port ministry, but operate on the fringe and generally restrict their attendance to vessels attended by agents that are of their “faith” or that fund their ministry.
It’s our belief the success of the Brunswick port ministry is a result of both good management and commercial awareness with the local maritime trade community, where others often do not involve themselves and often go unnoticed.
Jacksonville, including Fernandina has Danish, Norwegian and Dutch consular offices.