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Shore Leave

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. 

Why is shore leave under attack?

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.

The shipping industry is putting increasing demands on crews and ships that affect time in ports. Companies want faster turnarounds - and that means less time on shore for seafarers, who are increasingly working longer hours at sea as crews are cut to increase owners' profits.

Those pressures mean there are fewer opportunities for shore leave. But this is a short-term fix as 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?

The right to shore leave has also had a knock-back from 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. In US ports, under ISPS, shore leave has been denied to foreign seafarers without a visa.

Visa requirements and immigration controls are also affecting more and more seafarers, with certain nationalities being subject to greater restrictions than others as crews become multinational. TThat 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 just 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.

ITF says that these security measures conflict with the human rights of seafarers, and is campaigning to protect the essential right to shore leave.

How will things change?

There could be greater guarantees of the right 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.

ITF is campaigning for full ratification of C185, and is monitoring seafarers' access to shore leave through its international reporting system.