Unofficial sources, including AMO Currents and GCaptain, have reported that the US Coast Guard has issued a new ALCOAST message on seafarer access through MTSA-regulated facilities, in light of section 811 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010. A copy of the new policy is available on the website of the American Maritime Officers (AMO). The message, however, does not appear to have actually been released yet, and thus may be changed before its possible publication.
The copy likely was given to officers of the AMO when they and other maritime union representatives met earlier this month with the Coast Guard Commandant to discuss US implementation of the 2010 amendments to the STCW Code. It is dated “JAN 11” rather than with a complete date-time group, it lacks an ALCOAST number, and there is no Commandant’s Note number. It also does not appear on the Coast Guard’s web listing of Internet Releasable General Messages, although two ALCOASTs released that day and nine released later did make the list.
Section 811 requires that every MTSA Facility Security Plan (FSP) “provide a system for seamen assigned to a vessel at that facility, pilots, and representatives of seamen’s welfare and labor organizations to board and depart the vessel through the facility in a timely manner at no cost to the individual.” The possible future ALCOAST lists three terms from the section, “system,” “timely,” and “at no cost to the individual,” that “have raised questions amongst the maritime industry and require further clarification.” It also indicates that Coast Guard legal review determined that this section is not self-executing, but instead requires implementing regulations, and that the Director of Prevention Policy has asked the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee to assist in “further defining” the three terms and to provide industry input for a Coast Guard regulatory effort this spring. In the meantime, COTPs are to continue to follow the enforcement guidance in ALCOAST 575/09 and to conduct outreach to all critical port stakeholders potentially impacted by the change.” (ALCOAST 575/09 required COTPs to verify that all FSPs submitted for review specifically address how the facility would coordinate “crew change outs, shore leave and visits to the vessels by union and welfare organization representatives” and return those plans that don’t for further development before approval. FSPs already approved under the five-year review process, were to be examined prior to the facility’s next annual inspection or spot check, with facilities lacking an adequate provision being required to submit an amendment.)
It is curious that this potential tasking of the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee was not mentioned to the Committee during the briefing on Seafarer Access it received on January 19th. The briefer identified the same three terms as requiring clarification and indicated that the Coast Guard was looking to the relevant Congressional committees for further definition of what they meant by these key terms.
I don’t know that these terms are all that ambiguous. A “system” need mean no more than a means by which the access is ensured, be it a shuttle bus, a walking TWIC escort, or a monitored pathway through the facility (if that’s acceptable to the COTP). “Timely” should be interpreted under a reasonableness standardâ€”one consideration being how long the “system” takes to get a crew member out the gate, compared to how long the ship will be in portâ€”and shouldn’t require an instant on-demand service. “At no cost to the individual” isn’t vague at all with respect to the marinerâ€”you can’t charge him/her anything. But could the facility charge the vessel/shipping company. Ports that charge $50 and up for a security guard escort will want to, but my sense is that Congress meant for the facilities to operate their “system” including the funding thereof. For the lawyers in the crowd: Is this some sort of governmental “taking” for which facilities would have a right of compensation?
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