Nautilus member claims that a rule forbidding children to disembark at a DP World port is forcing families travelling with crew members to cancel shore leave and even miss flights home. Helen Kelly reports
A 'draconian' rule banning children from disembarking at DP World London Gateway container terminal is taking away the right to shore leave from crew members and their families – and has been branded grossly unfair by Nautilus member and deepsea pilot Ian Andrews.
In one recent case, the blanket ban forced a master and his family to cancel their leave entitlement, forcing them to stay onboard for an additional three weeks. Capt Andrews warns that Nautilus members could easily fall foul of the same rule.
Melroy D'souza came into London Gateway aboard a 58,200 tonne container ship in June. Capt D'souza was travelling with his wife and two children aged 10 and 2.
He alerted the ship's agent Jamie Brian from Denholm Port Services Limited of his family's intention to disembark at the container port for an onward journey into London and eventual flight back to Mumbai.
The family had hoped to do some sightseeing before returning home. They were holders of valid British visas, and while the ship was alongside the vessel was inspected by Border Force immigration officers, the MCA and Port State Control. Border Force stamped the family's passports and confirmed that there are no rules or regulations for sign-off as they were passengers onboard.
However, in an exchange of emails with Mr Brian, which Nautilus has seen, Capt D'souza was advised that 'terminal rules' did not allow children under the age of 16 to disembark.
Despite repeated requests for clarification and contact with the port security officer or manager in charge of the terminal, the Agent refused to take the matter further.
My family has been sailing with me for the last 10 years now and we have not come across a single port in the world that has refused to allow children to step ashore
As a result, Capt D'souza had to cancel his leave, and remained onboard with his family while berthed in London. They all stayed on the vessel for the remaining rotation – an extra three weeks that took in Rotterdam, Hamburg, Le Havre and New York before disembarking and returning to Mumbai on an 18-hour flight home instead of a nine-hour flight from London.
By that time, his 10-year-old had missed the start of the new school term, having been unable to fly home from London on the planned date.
Capt D'souza remains at a loss for why access to the port was not allowed. 'My family has been sailing with me for the last 10 years now and we have not come across a single port in the world that has refused to allow children of less than 16 years of age to step ashore,' he said in an email exchange. 'There would definitely be some waiver or exemption which could help family and kids step ashore or sign off, especially when the Border Force have no issue at all and the family members all have valid UK visas.'
Nautilus spoke with both London Gateway harbour master Colin Hitchcock and ship's agent Jamie Brian and found several discrepancies in their responses that could have sealed the family's fate.
Mr Brian claimed he had been advised by the harbour master that all children under the age of 16 in the UK must use a child car seat when being transported by vehicle. The port would not provide child seats. The agent chose not to provide them himself because he 'didn’t have the time'.
'It would open up a can of worms,' Mr Brian said. 'What if the ship came in at 04:00hrs? Would the captain want to take his kids off [the vessel] then? Will the agent have to get out of bed to provide child seats?'
Nautilus has subsequently discovered that Capt D'Souza had anticipated the UK car seat regulation and had provided his own for the journey – but due to the lack of information from the agent, was not granted the opportunity to inform them of this.
London Gateway harbour master Colin Hitchcock denied that the decision had anything to do with car seats, and further clarified that the ruling applied to children under the age of six only – not 16.
The reason was, he said, that a security audit at the port had identified a high tidal range which could result in an acute range of gangway angles. It was stated that children under the age of six would not be safe using the gangway at certain tides, and that carrying babes in arms or assisting young children could put both the adults’ and children's safety at risk.
Mr Hitchcock said he was not aware that the family were to disembark the vessel at London Gateway and he was sorry that the Captain's leave had been cancelled. However, he believed – as a father of three daughters himself – that the ruling would prevent accidents involving young children at the port.
Nautilus member Capt Andrews has now written a letter to Mr Hitchcock requesting details of the risk assessment under a freedom of information (FOI) request.
'This rule is over-prescriptive or is being inappropriately applied to further restrict the diminishing rights and privileges of seafarers who have less time and access to their families than those who drafted this rule,' he told Nautilus in an email.
'This sort of thing is the domain of tinpot regimes and had this happened in some God-forsaken part of the world it might be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders, but for it happen in our own country and in a port of our capital city is nothing short of outrageous. Capt D'souza is not a member of our union yet but this policy could well inflict serious injustice to those of us who are.'