Some seafarers from Russia and Ukraine with valid US visas have reportedly been refused entry at US ports from when Russia invaded Ukraine, per several shipping industry groups. The ports include North Carolina’s Port of Morehead City, Florida’s Port Canaveral, Port of New Orleans, and several other ports in Texas.
The CEO and president of America’s Chamber of Shipping, Kathy J. Metcalf, said her organization suspects that these seafarers are being refused as Customs and Border Protection officials are extremely concerned that they may not end up at the airport to catch a return flight and can simply disappear into the US instead of returning to their motherland in Ukraine or Russia.
The Chamber of Shipping of America, which represents operators and owners of US-based vessels, was one of the many industry groups that had written to Biden’s administrative officials in a letter to express concerns over the seafarers from Ukraine and Russia who were denied entry.
It was on Friday that the Wall Street Journal first reported regarding the letter and these seafarers being refused entry. The letter also asked CBP to build upon guidance to field offices on how to move with the processing of seafarers from Ukraine and Russia, so the same can be applied across the US ports.
The letter was for Alejandro Mayorkas, the Homeland Security Secretary, and Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary. It expressed concerns regarding the impact of sanctions, particularly those on the two separatist regions in Ukraine, on vessels with crew members from those places.
Russians and Ukrainians make up a significant number of seafarers, who account for 4.5% to 10.5% of the global seafaring workforce, per the International Chamber of Shipping.
Metcalf informed Insider that the most immediate problem is Ukrainian and Russian sailors being refused entry as it prevents them from disembarking, thereby, blocking the ships from getting crew changes done. Crew changes are imperative to establishing safety and making sure that crew members are well-rested.
She mentioned that the CBP has the authority to block entry to individuals, even those who have valid visas, if they have reasons to believe they may try and overstay visa and stay back in the US, but that inconsistency across major ports is a problem that must be addressed.
On the other hand, the UN’s shipping agency is seeking to develop a safe and secure maritime corridor to help merchant ships and crews stuck in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea to sail without being hit.
Ukraine’s maritime officials have informed Reuters that the fighting has left almost 100 foreign-flagged ships and vessels along with hundreds of mariners stuck in ports of Ukraine. A seafarer was reportedly killed at Ukraine’s Olvia port last week after a missile struck his Bangladeshi cargo vessel. War projectiles have hit other vessels recently with one sinking.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) of the UN convened virtual meetings last week on Thursday and Friday for discussing the situation. A statement highlighted the commitment of the Secretary-General of IMO, Kitack Lim, to adopt immediate measures to realize the blue safe maritime corridor.