Efficiency of ports has led to a sharp reduction in turnaround times. Containerisation has meant that ships now “turn around” much faster than they did in the cargo liner trades 20 years ago. This dramatic change in turnaround times has occurred even though there has been a substantial increase in tonnage. In 1972, according to a study undertaken by the SIRC, in a typical port, 75% of the ships would be in port for over four days. By 1998, this had reduced dramatically to a situation where 80% of ships were in port for less than 24 hours. This meant that the time available for welfare and ministry had also fallen dramatically. Yet the need may well have increased. In theory, no matter how short turnaround time is, it should be possible for seafarers to be granted shore leave. But, in practical terms, this is extremely difficult for the following reasons:
● intense workload while ships are in port;
● decline in crewing levels;
● port locations and environments; and most recently
● increased security measures
Traditionally, ports were located near city centres; these ports, such as
Liverpool, San Francisco and Yokohama, are now regarded as historical ports and docks. Modern port developments generally take place some distance away from residential and other amenities. These ports are automated, unpeopled, steel-framed and are not well served by public transport.
Shore leave is not a luxury. It is essential for seafarers who spend many weeks cooped up at their workplace, with only work mates and managers for company. Those who work at sea need to get on shore to access phones and the internet to contact family, to seek welfare, social, medical or psychological support if needed, and to have a break from the work environment.
Photo: Steven Bruijneel, www.dockwork.be
Seafarers' essential right to have respite on shore is facing erosion from growing pressures in the industry – and from the new post- September 11 environment.
Those pressures mean there are fewer opportunities for shore leave. But such measures will deter new workers from coming in or staying on in the industry.
There have also been changes in the ports themselves. New-build ports tend to be isolated away from the traditional coastal towns, which also limits seafarers' options when they do have time off-ship. Sometimes the transportation costs are just too high for seafarers to access facilities.
What is the new security agenda?
Access to shore leave has been reduced by the new worldwide security measures brought in following September 11. As a consequence of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS), seafarers are now subject to tight security regulations in port. Seafarers' movement around ports – even access to telephone booths and welfare missions – is now severely restricted. Under ISPS, shore leave has been denied to foreign seafarers without a visa in a number of countries.
Visa requirements and immigration controls are also affecting more and more seafarers, with certain nationalities being subject to greater restrictions than others. That means some crew members can get shore leave, while their colleagues have to stay on board. There is also a problem with different officials interpreting the rules in different ways. In addition, some shipowners are denying shore leave to their crew to avoid possible difficulties.
This tough new security approach affects seafarers' access to traditional shore-based welfare services, contributes to their isolation, and damages their health and emotional security.
There could be greater access to shore leave if new proposals for an international seafarers’ identity document are ratified and implemented. The International Labour Organisation convention 185 – Seafarers’ ID – could improve the situation by ensuring that all bona fide seafarers have a highly secure ID that is recognised worldwide.