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Since September 2001 (9/11), heightened border protection measures have resulted in the need for more secure travel documentation, such as biometric passports, secure national identification cards and the like. As the majority of all global trade is conducted by sea, the granting of shore leave is of vital importance to a merchant seaman’s (crew member) welfare. Securing a crew member identity to facilitate granting of shore leave is beneficial for both the ship’s crew and for migration authorities at all ports of call.

The United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) is responsible for the regulatory framework of maritime shipping. The International Labor Organization (“ILO”) is also a United Nations agency that brings together representatives of governments, employers, and workers to jointly shape policies and programs. The ILO is comprised of 183 countries (i.e., “ILO Member States”). The ILO’s Conventions are responsible for creating and overseeing international labor standards, including those for merchant seamen.

 The provisions in the ILO’s 1958 Convention No. 108 (ILO C108 or “ILO 108”) created an internationally-recognized identity document for crew traveling aboard seafaring vessels entering another country’s designated seaport(s). The ILO and the maritime industry refer to this document as a Seafarer’s Identity Document (“SID”), also commonly referred to as a “Seaman’s Book”. It is important to understand that the SID does not replace a crew member passport (an international travel document), and cannot be used to enter another country if arriving by airline or via overland routes.

Another important feature of the SID ILO 108 is that the SID replaces the requirement for a crew member to present an entry, work or transit visa for those countries that have ratified the ILO 108, provided that the crew member (1) can evidence his/her employment on the ship that is arriving at an ILO-Member State destination, and (2) is arriving at a destination Member State’s designated international seaport.

Under the current ILO 108 provisions, most ILO Member States will grant qualified crewmembers a “shore leave” of up to 30 consecutive days in a single stay without requiring a national entry or work visa. The period of visa-waiver is determined by each Member State’s national immigration laws and is applied on a case-by-case basis for each crewmember. If a vessel is transiting through the national waters of an ILO-Member State, the country of transit may waive the need for crewmembers holding valid SIDs recognized by said country to obtain transit visas.

 In June 2003, in response to post-9/11 requirements for international travel documents, new SID regulations were adopted with the passage of ILO C 185 (ILO 185) to conform to current universal secure identification requirements. The new ILO 185 standards for SIDs are in the process of being ratified by the ILO Member States.

The major requirements under the new ILO 185 regulations are as follows:

  • SIDs can only be issued by the crewmember’s country of nationality or country of legal, permanent residence. (Currently, under ILO 108, SIDs can be issued by the crewmember’s country of nationality, country of the flag vessel, or by the country of the crewmember’s employer);
  • SIDs must be machine readable cards that contain the required biometric information of the crewmember, similar to that of a new biometric passport. (Currently, under ILO 108, most crewmembers hold SID “Seaman’s Books,” containing only records of the holders’ career certification and experience);
  • Each Member State must implement minimum ILO requirements and recommended procedures for issuance of SIDs, and ensure crewmembers observe compliance with both ILO requirements and the host country’s laws and regulations;
  • The SID does not replace a crewmember’s passport, but it can be used as the crewmember’s primary international identification document provided the crewmember remains on board the vessel during the entire time the ship remains in the host country’s national waters;
  • Prior to certain crewmembers entering a particular destination country’s national waters, entry, work, and transit visas may be required by a destination country for the following:

- crewmembers who are visa nationals under the transiting countries’ and/or host destination country’s national immigration laws;

- crewmembers who do not carry SIDs issued by the seafarer’s country of nationality or legal permanent residence; or,

- a crewmember possessing a SID issued by a country not recognized by the destination country;

 Under the new ILO 185 regulations, the maritime authorities in each country will be responsible for issuing new SID cards. Once a Member State ratifies the new ILO 185 standards, all SIDs issued in accordance with the ILO 108 will become invalid and new SID cards are to be issued by the seaman’s country of nationality or legal permanent residence. The cards are expected to replace the ILO 108 versions and are intended to reduce destination country entry visa requirements.

As the many ILO Member States are finding it expensive to produce biometric identity documents and install new machine-readable equipment at multiple ports of entry, at this time only 14 out of the 183 Member States have ratified the new ILO 185 regulations. In addition, some ILO Member States that have entry restrictions for certain nationalities in their countries are unable to ratify the new ILO 185 standards without first changing their national immigration laws to be in accordance with the requirements stated in Article 6º of the ILO 185.

Obviously, the ILO 185 must attract considerably more ratifications if the new SIDs security requirements and protocols are to be universally accepted.

Maritime companies and independent vessels should be mindful that ILO 108 has only been ratified by 61 Member States which represents approximately 60.7% of the world fleet.

Crew members who do not carry a valid SID issued by a ratifying Member State may be subject to the visa/entry requirements of the destination country (e.g., a U.S. national seaman entering a Brazilian port without a qualified Seaman’s Book will be required to obtain a Brazilian work visa in his or her passport prior to entering Brazilian national waters.)

In conclusion, failure by a vessel’s owners to ensure all on-board seamen possess the appropriate entry documentation prior to arriving in port may result in civil penalties imposed by the destination country’s migration authorities. Therefore, it is recommended to verify that each seaman holds the positive and verifiable identification required for each destination country.




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