Captain Thomas W. Hudson of the US Gulf Branch of the Nautical Institute discusses why seafarers have been barred from leaving their workplace
The 5th Amendment to the US Constitution protects the Liberty of all men. Since the right to liberty is basic to our judicial system, every state has laws against "False Imprisonment" or “False Arrest” (detention without legal authority). Some consider simple False Arrest to be a misdemeanour punishable by a fine or short jail term. In other states, the offence is a felony. If the victim is harmed or a ransom is demanded, the offence becomes a felony – kidnapping.
There are civil rights issues at stake. The 14th Amendment repeated the protection of liberty and property. It also directed Congress to enact laws to protect such rights. Those laws made it a felony to conspire to deprive another of rights guaranteed under the Constitution (18 USC 241). They also anticipate co-operation by law enforcement under the colour of law principle (18 USC 242).
That US ports and terminals before the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic prevented seafarers from taking shore leave makes no sense, legally or morally. The USCG has issued legal reviews and warned port facilities that there is no federal justification for their actions. Imagine the outcry if the pilots and crew of passenger airliners were not allowed to leave the aircraft once the plane had landed on US soil. It could be argued that a sea captain and an airline captain have equal responsibilities and rights, but those arriving in ports are denied the liberty.
“That US ports and terminals before the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic prevented seafarers from taking shore leave makes no sense, legally or morally”
In some cases, it is even worse. In the past, my company was invoiced by a terminal demanding payment for allowing us to perform a crew change at its facility. The terminal in question did not allow a crew change unless a fee was paid. We now usually do the crew change at another terminal to avoid the charge; but in the above instance there was no alternative and our office paid the fee. Seeing the charge and knowing that it was made without any intention of providing any service made me think: “Since there is no legal authority that prevents the exercise of free movement, charging for it is extortion.”
Removing liberty and freedom of movement should only be done in exceptional circumstances, such as the current measures taken by local or national governments to lockdown citizens to prevent deaths. Once the pandemic has passed, rights will be restored. However, at some terminals in the US, seafarers were, are and will be denied their rights before, during and after the pandemic.
If you are a seafarer and have been denied shore leave, don’t be a victim. Be a patriot; see a lawyer and protect everyone’s rights.