Ever since 9/11 mariners have been largely kept in a state of virtual lockdown at most marine facilities and, in some cases, this has included a strict prohibition on us setting so much as one foot on the dock. It seems not to matter that, pre-TWIC or post-TWIC, we’d all undergone background checks and should be viewed as security assets rather than security risks. Confining us and not allowing us to conduct the normal and legitimate business of our vessels (crew changes, grub shopping, delivery of stores, or just trying to get some exercise by walking to maintain our health and sanity) via their Coast Guard-approved facility security plans is also flat-out illegal. Nevertheless, marine terminals and facilities have simply ignored the law and regulations, specifically 33 CFR § 200(b)(9) and 33 CFR § 105.270, getting away with it because no one with the juice to do something about it would. But on August 17th at least one Coast Guard sector commander, in Houston, has taken a stance against these practices in Port Security Information Bulletin # 04-09 – Access to Ships Through Facilities. It’s a shot across the bow, warning the facilities that the required CG-approval of their security plans may be rescinded if they lack the required mariner-access provisions.
The MTVA commends the actions of the recently-promoted Capt. Marcus Woodring, as well as his predecessor Capt. William Diehl, the man who initially got the ball rolling when no one else would. Mariners need to know that the Coast Guard cares about this problem and is willing and able to take effective action to rectify it. But grateful as we are for the local attention given in Houston, it should not be a policy confined solely to that sector. This should be a Coast Guard-wide policy applied aggressively in every sector, every port, every dock and terminal, and coming directly from the top: the commandant. Mariners are long since fed up with being regarded and treated as, at best, a potentially dangerous nuisance or, at worst, a gang of dangerous criminals. It’s commonly understood throughout the maritime industry that our lack of freedom of movement is both a morale-buster and a serious deterrent to recruitment and retention. It’s time to roll back these ridiculous and illegal security plans nationwide.
All mariners should contact their local sector commanders and report to them whenever any facility isn’t allowing proper access. That’s the only way this is ever going to change.