The Coast Guard has reopened the public comment period for its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) ‘‘Seafarers’ Access to Maritime Facilities.’’

The NPRM, which was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 29, 2014, would require each owner or operator of a facility regulated by the Coast Guard to implement a system that provides seafarers and other individuals with access between vessels moored at the facility and the facility gate, in a timely manner and at no cost to the seafarer or other individual. As originally published, the comment period for the NPRM closed on Feb. 27, 2015. The Coast Guard said they are particularly interested in comments on its estimate that there is a 10.3% noncompliance rate of facilities with respect to providing seafarers’ access.

While 90% of Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA)-regulated facilities pose no problems, others make shore access impractical “by placing extreme limitations on escort availability or by charging exorbitant fees,” the Coast Guard said. Current problems range from waiting three hours for TWIC-holding facility personnel to prohibiting TWIC-holding seafarers from walking between the vessel and the gate or banning mariners from leaving the vessel altogether. “We have received other complaints of facilities charging $400-$500 (in addition to requiring the vessel agent to independently hire its own TWIC-holding escorts) before allowing seafarers ashore,” the Coast Guard said in the NPRM. The new regulation would cover not only mariners, pilots and labor organization representatives but also port engineers, classification society surveyors, ship’s agents and others authorized to perform work on and for a vessel.

The Coast Guard estimates the rule would affect 2,498 facilities, which would need to implement a new access system within a year of publication of the final rule. “Shore leave and access to the ship is a major issue not only for seafarers, but for the entire maritime industry,” Capt. Donald Marcus, president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, said in his comments on the rule. “With a global shortage of seafarers it affects the recruitment and retention of seafarers who are treated like potential criminals and terrorists.”

The American Waterways Operators said vessel operators have had to pay high fees to launch services because terminals and refineries prohibit non-facility personnel from being escorted through their grounds. One AWO member who operates nationwide estimates that it spent “more than $130,000 on escort providers on the East Coast alone” last year, AWO said. AWO also suggested the Coast Guard “include explicit references to port captains, shore-based tankermen, vessel service technicians, cargo inspectors and crew members arriving at a vessel from a facility.” And it wants it made clear that facility owners can’t pass access costs on to vessel owners.

The Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) wants to be sure the proposed rule doesn’t “inadvertently impose new and unnecessary requirements on a facility that receives the typical U.S.-flagged passenger vessel. For vessels with security plans operated by PVA members, there is no need for their vessel workers to have scheduled or on-call escorting across the premises of the terminal or even a monitoring system for their pedestrian access routes.” Since terminals provide designated public access corridors for passengers, “crewmembers simply follow the same public path of travel to reach their vessel,” PVA said.

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.