US Coast Guard has published the Seafarers’ Access to Maritime Facilities Final Rule in the Federal Register 1 April 2019. It requires owners and operators of Maritime Transportation Security Act-regulated facilities to provide seafarers holding valid US visas and other covered individuals with the ability to transit through the facility in a timely manner and at no cost to the individuals.
Under this rule, each owner or operator of a maritime facility regulated by the USCG is required to implement a system providing seafarers, pilots, and representatives of seamen’s welfare and labour organisations access between vessels moored at the facility and the facility gate, in a timely manner and at no cost to the seafarer or other individuals.
The final rule provides regulatory flexibility to owners and operators to determine the method of shore access that best suits the size and function of their facility. These methods may include, but are not limited to, providing regularly scheduled or on-call shuttle service, taxi service, arrangements with seafarers’ welfare organisations, or monitoring of pedestrian routes.
The access procedures must be documented in the Facility Security Plan for each facility, and approved by the local Captain of the Port. Although the final rule is effective 1 May 1 2019, each facility owner or operator has 14 months after publication of the final rule (1 June 2020) to implement a system. This delayed implementation allows the Captain of the Port to work with each facility in the event of deficiencies in the plan.
When the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in 2014, the Coast Guard opened extended public comment periods and held one public meeting. In total, the Coast Guard received 163 comments. The commenters represented private individuals, port authorities, pilots’ associations, industry groups, professional mariner associations, seafarers’ unions, seafarers’ churches and centres, other mariner non-governmental organisations, the World Shipping Council, and the Company of Master Mariners of Canada.
“This final rule is important because mariners may be at sea for days, weeks, or even months as part of their employment on a ship, and shore leave is a critical part of maintaining their health, welfare, morale, and overall quality of life,” said Capt. Ryan Manning, Chief of the USCG’s Office of Port and Facility Compliance. “The Coast Guard’s final rule ensures mariners are provided secure, yet reasonable, no-cost opportunities to transit through MTSA-regulated facilities in order to access fundamental human services shore side, and to visit with family and friends. The Coast Guard thanks the entire maritime community for their input in drafting this rule to ensure covered individuals are not denied access.