A worsening problem with visa for seafarers

Upon arrival at port a seafarer would normally finished his job and turn over his duties in order to go ashore. After a 15 to 27 days of voyage at sea, we normally get excited whenever we see land. Putting aside the idea of having a visa, a typical seafarer would normally ask permission to the officer in charge in order to go ashore. Imagine the disappointment of a seafarer whenever his shore leave is denied due to not having a visa. Why do they really require seafarers to have a visa? We only stay a few days or most of the time less than 24 hours alongside a port.

Why they require Visas

Visa, a document whereby a duly authorized government agency gives a citizen of another country permission to enter the country or, occasionally, permission to leave.” – wikipedia. Fair enough don’t you think? But the thing is, we don’t stay that long on a country. It’s either we join a vessel, disembarked a vessel, visit a doctor, or go ashore. But since its a requirement, we better follow it.

Does visa benefits seafarers?

Implementation of visa on seafarers does not benefit us. I say this for certain reasons. Mariners travel around the world most of the time. It is difficult and often impossible to secure a visa while you’re onboard and suddenly you receive an order to go to a certain country that requires you to have a visa. Aside from the fact that it takes a lot of days to secure a visa just to change crew, it also became one of the reason for overstaying of crew onboard.

If you don’t have visa?

  • What could happen to you if in case you suddenly get sick or you need immediate medical assistance? You would probably remain onboard awaiting orders.
  • What if you’re contract has expired and you need to go home? You would probably stay onboard until you leave that country and wait for your chance to go home on another convenient port.
  • What if there is an emergency, a family problem that forces you to go home? You would probably stay onboard and wait for the next convenient port that don’t require visa.

These are just a few of the reasons why. We can never really say what you and the others think about this. Our opinion varies differently whenever the topic about securing a visa arises.

Let me quote to you an article that Fred Fry wrote:

“The ILO formulates international labor standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations setting minimum standards of basic labor rights: freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labor, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other standards regulating conditions across the entire spectrum of work related issues.

One item that the ILO has under its wing is Seafarer Identification. Since seafarers travel around the world and don’t always know where they are going, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the right visa before arriving at a port. This is where the ILO comes in, with a Convention that sets the rules for seafarer identification to permit the movement of seafarers with limited restrictions/visa issues.

The old Convention was passed in 1958, and after the terror attacks of September 11, it was realized that an updated convention was needed. So in the summer of 2003 the new Convention (Number 185) was adopted and it came into force on 9 February 2005. There is just one small problem, the US does not like the new Convention. Specifically, they don’t like the following clause in the Convention:

Shore leave

4. Each Member for which this Convention is in force shall, in the shortest possible time, and unless clear grounds exist for doubting the authenticity of the seafarers’ identity document, permit the entry into its territory of a seafarer holding a valid seafarer’s identity document, when entry is requested for temporary shore leave while the ship is in port.

6. For the purpose of shore leave seafarers shall not be required to hold a visa. Any Member which is not in a position to fully implement this requirement shall ensure that its laws and regulations or practice provide arrangements that are substantially equivalent.

The problem here is that the US does require visas for seafarers wishing to go ashore in US Ports. In the past they used to issue Crew Visas that were issued to the crew upon arrival. This is no longer possible. Therein lies the problem. If you are a seafarer and you are coming to the US, you need to get a visa before you join the ship, especially if you plan on joining it in the US. Immigration won’t let you into the Country unless you have a visa. This Convention tried to eliminate the Visa requirement in the US or at least force the US to make it easier for seafarers to get a visa once here. – continues

The ILO has been trying to get the US to commit to ratification of this convention with little success so far. I suspect that this Convention is all but dead, taking into account the reaction of congress in the DP World Port ownership issue. Imagine the furor in congress and the public if it is suggested that they sign up to an international convention that will result in seafarers from around the world (including North Korea and Iran) into the country without proper due diligence.” C185 Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003 – fredfryinternational.

I’d also like to show to you one of the visa related news article by “Aftenposten“, a norwegian news paper that posted an article entitled “Norwegian seafarers not welcome on US land“:

“We feel we are being treated like potential terrorists,” Captain Tor Gisle Bjerknes told Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten.

“It doesn’t help if the person is European, a captain, and has had a US visa for years,” said Captain Otto Vollan on the Bow Fortune, another ship in the Odfjell fleet.

The seafarers say the restrictions violate bilateral shipping agreements and could even cause health problems — when a seafarer needs to visit a doctor or dentist, for example.

A new ID card is under development to allow seafarers to go on land worldwide without the need for a visa, but after five years of waiting, it remains unclear when the card will come into use.

The US has signalled that it doesn’t want to ratify the ID card, and so far only 13 countries have given it the green light. France is the only Western European country to have said yes to the ID card.

Have your say

Based on the above information, do you think that we should be granted the liberty to go ashore, disembark a vessel, join a vessel, and see a doctor without a visa? Does this kind of restriction regarding visa would promote safety for personnel onboard the ship? Will the “Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention” pushed through? If you want to share your opinion, write your comment and be heard.

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