Posted in Sea Stories on June 15th, 2010 by Jacob

15 June, 2010

My first encounter with the US Immigration was in the summer of 1966. I was on my very first ship, a bulk carriers named “Har-Sinai” (Hebrew for “Mount Sinai”) as a deck cadet, we we have just arrived at Mobil Alabama, with 30,000 tons Iron Ore from Venezuela.

As happens with every ship arriving at any port, US Customs and Immigration were the first to board the ship with the local ship-agent as soon as the ships is moored. The two US Immigration officers checked the Crew-List against their “Black Book”, a very thick book with black cover that contained thousands upon thousands of names of people who are not permitted to enter the USA. If your name is not on in the black book, the immigration officer would then look at your Seaman’s Book (equivalent to Passport), see that it is current, ensures that the photo in your Seaman’s Book , matches your face and hen he would consult his “Green Book” to see whether you have been in the USA before and if so, whether  there are any marks against your name.

Only when you pass such scrutiny the officer will stamp your pre-printed shore-leave pass which entitled you to go ashore, be legally in the USA, but only within an specified area only and only whilst your ship is in port.

When all the shore-leave passes have been signed and stamped and after other customs and quarantine formalities are finalised the customs and immigration issue a clearance certificate for the ship, meaning stevedores (longshoremen) may come onboard, cargo work can commence, and crew may go ashore.

The immigration officers would then leave the ship with all the seaman’s book and passports (if any) that will be returned to the ship just before the ships sails and after ensuring and everybody is actually back onboard.

As this was my first time in the USA, I was finger-printed and photographed, just a standard procedure, I became another file number somewhere within the US immigration system. What about my “human right” I hear? Well, frankly it had never occurred to me; of course I could refuse, but it would have simply meant that I could not go ashore (and possibly raise some suspicion as to why I refuse to be figure-printed).

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US Seaman Shoreleave pass

But there was another snag; one of the other Israeli seaman onboard, let us call him Shlomo (I cannot recall his actual name), also a first timer in the USA, was declined a shore-leave pass, the reason was that the immigration officer discovered a person with an Israeli nationality by the same surname as Shlomo’s in the Black Book — It transpired that Shlomo’s brother had jumped ship some two years earlier, subsequently captured and deported.

That was a sufficient reason to decline Shlomo’s a shore-leave pass. When Shlomo attempted to explain that he played no part in what his brother had done thus he should not be punished for it. The immigration officer explained that there is nothing in USA Law that says that he, the immigration officer, must grant shore-leave pass to anyone by right, shore-leave pass is purely a privilege, that he may grant or not and in fact he does not even required to have a reason for declining. Our ships-agent confirmed that there is no legal avenue by which the Immigration can be forced to grant a shore-leave pass. We are not US citizens, thus the protection of the Constitution of the USA does not apply to us (or words to that affect), It is the same way that any US Consulate anywhere in the world can, at least those days, decline entry visa into the USA at its sole discretion, he added.

As harsh as it was, it made perfect sense to me. I also knew that the slightest breach of the condition of the shore-leave pass will result in my name being placed in the “Black Book”, with all that that entails.

Shlomo was not allowed to leave the ship and indeed the Immigration turned up onboard a couple of times whilst we were in port to ensure that Shlomo is in fact onboard.

(I bumped  into Shlomo a few years later in a street in Haifa and he told me that, after I left the ship and after a few subsequent calls of his ships in the USA, he was finally granted a shore leave pass because of his “good behaviour”, meaning he did not try to leave the ship without a shore-leave pass).

* * * * *

Some two years later, I was already the Second Officer of another ship, a banana boat named “Har Bashan”. We were employed in the (Chiquita) bananas trades mostly from Central and South America to the US Gulf, US East Coast and Europe. The fact that I regularly call in US ports as an officer entitled me to permanent shore-leave pass  which somewhat simplified the immigration procedures I had go through when my ship call in US ports.

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Har Bashan - Pueto Cortez, 1967

Click here to see a larger image

Carlos was one of the Able Seamen (AB) on the “Har Bashsan”; a Spaniard in his late thirties, a conscientious seaman and, by all accounts ,a dedicated family man. As the one who made the payslips onboard, I knew that Carlos withdrew just small amount of pocket money each (monthly) pay day whilst the balance of his wages was sent to his wife in Spain.

Carlos was also my semi-permanent lookout on my night watches on the bridge (from midnight to 4 am) when we were at sea. His main duty was watch for other ships and take the wheel if needed him to do so. On my daylight watches (noon to 4 pm) when the weather was fine and there was no or very light  shipping traffic around, Carlos would work on deck with the rest of deck crew whilst I was on bridge on my own; I could call on Carlos at any time to come up to the bridge, for a additional lookout or take the helm (wheel) if circumstances demand it. This was the procedures that was followed by all cargo ships those days (It was and is different for  passengers ships)

Carlos did not speak a word in English but with my pigeon Spanish we manage to communicate. We spent long nights on the bridge in “palavra” (seamen’s small talk) when there was nothing else for us to do apart from watching the empty sea and sky. We talked about our respective homes, ships that we had sailed on, places we had been in and so on. I would not describe our relation as “friends” by any mean but there was a definitely a mutual affinity between us.

On one of our call to the port of Baltimore, we have just completed discharging a ship-load of some 120,000 cartons of bananas and were getting ready to sail. Immigration were on board as usual, attempting to ensure that everybody is back onboard for sailing, a pure routine until we discovered that Carlos is not back onboard.

If Carlos had jumped ship, he would not be the first or the last to do so, nor  would he even  be the first on this ship, but knowing Carlos as I did, I told the immigration officer, that as the officer who is the closest to Carlos than any other officer onboard, it is totally out of character for Carlos to jump ship, something must have happen to him I speculated.

Using my Master Key, we entered Carlos’s cabin and inspected it; there were no signs that he had gone; in fact all signs pointed to the opposite. Carlos’s wife’s and kids’ photographs and a small Jesus on a cross icon were still next to his bed. His suitcase was there as what appeared to be all his cloths.

By then I had inspected enough cabins of seamen who had jumped ship to know the signs and what to look for. There are a number of tell-tell signs, profile if you wish, of people who jump ships; they are usually professionally unqualified, they “travel light”, they joined the ship recently and they jump ships on the first opportunity. In many cases they also leave a large unpaid “slopchest” (the ship’s duty-free “shop” for the crew) account behind them.

None of these tell-tell signs applied to Carlos. If anything, Carlos was the complete anti-thesis to a ship jumper.

True, it is not an exact science nor is it a conclusive proof that Carlos did not “do the run” but it was certainly put a great dent in the probability that he did. The immigration office who accompanied me to Carlos’s Cabin seemed to agree with my conclusion, although he did not actually say so.

The immigration officer then proceeded and called whomever he needed to call  and after a while he informed us that all the checks with all the police stations and hospitals in the Baltimore areas turned out nothing, no Carlos!

If Carlos had jumped ship he could never enter the USA again, that may also have severe implications of his ability get future works on other ships, Carlos had been at sea for long enough to realise the consequences of jumping ship, it simply made no sense.

After a short consultation with the Captain, he agreed to put back the sailing time by one hour — so long as we remain alongside the wharf, Carlos cannot be declared an illegal alien, his shore-leave pass is still valid. We hoped that somehow Carlos would turn up within the hour.

An hour turned into two, still no Carlos. The ship is now “off-hire” meaning the company that had hired the ship, United Fruit Company (UFC), is not paying hire for the ship itself,  the fuel we are burning or the port charges we incur whilst waiting for Carlos – it is now all on our shipowner, our employer’s, account.

We could wait no longer, not only we jeopardising UFC’ schedule, cost our owner money, but there was another ship waiting for our berth, meaning soon our owner would start paying the delay of that other ship too.

Two and a half hours after the original departure time, our ship was cleared to sail after we had gone through the formalities declaring Carlos as “missing seaman on departure – reason: unknown”. Pilot and tugboats were ordered, lines (the ropes and wires that tie the ship to the wharf) were off and we were on our way.

However, there was still one last chance, albeit a slim one; the geography of Baltimore is such that we still had about 12 hours steaming time down Chesapeake Bay ahead of us before we reach the open ocean, about 200 miles down the Bay, not far from Norfolk and Virginia Beach (Virginia).

Before they left the ships we had advised the immigration officers, that on the off-chance that they find Carlos within the next 10-12 hours and he is medically fit to re-join the ship, we were prepared to stop the ship, wait at a rendezvous place in the Bay and pick him up.

A few hours into our steaming down Chesapeake Bay, whilst I was on the bridge with the American Bay Pilot (who guided ships through the bay) and another seaman who  took Carlos’s place at the wheel, The pilot suddenly turn to me and asked if we are missing a sailor. When I confirm that indeed we do and gave him Carlos’s full name, the pilot advised that the immigration have got Carlos and they wish to bring him onboard. I immediately called the captain who was not on the bridge at the time as this was beyond my authority to agree or otherwise.

The captain came up to the bridge, gave his agreement and the pilot proceeded to arrange the rendezvous over his walky-talky.

We change course in accordance with the pilot’s advice and headed toward the rendezvous point. Some 45 minutes later, the pilot pointed at a Customs Boat, amongst the endless number of small boats and yachts in the vicinity of our ship, that was heading in our direction and said: “Here is you man, on that boat”. 15 minutes later the customs boat was alongside us and we could see Carlos standing on its deck, clearly with a sheepish look on his face, he knew that all the binoculars on the bridge are focused on him.  Carlos climbed the pilot ladder (a rope ladders usually used by pilots to get on and off ships) and got onto the ship’s deck.

He immediately proceeded to the bridge where the captain and I were waiting for him. He appeared highly excited, obviously embarrassed, perhaps worried about the consequences of the “troubles” he had caused, talking… well, sort of talking; “Santa Maria”, “Jesus Christos” and some other unmentionable words were only ones I could decipher from his hundred miles per second Spanish.

Eventually Carlos calmed down a bit and told us that he had gone ashore a few hours before we were due to sail to buy something in plenty of time to return to the ship before Sailing.

Not speaking English, Carlos did what he had done “Un millon veces antes” (millions times before) in every non-Spanish speaking port that he had ever been; He would write down the name of the wharf where the ships was as he left the ship and when the time comes for him to back to the ship he would get a cab and give the taxi driver his piece of paper with the name of the wharf on it and let taxi bring him back to his ship.

“Pero este taxista americano estupido” (But this stupid American taxi driver) in Carlos’s words, could not find the ship. After about two hours looking for the ship in all over Baltimore, Carlos realised that he was not going make it to the ship in time. He managed somehow to get the taxi driver to drop him at a police station where he found someone who spoke Spanish.

There was only one aspect in Carlos’s story that, that seemed stange to me. The wharf that we had just left did not have a name, just a number, it was called Pier 34 . “Carlos” I said “El muelle del barco en Baltiomre no tiene nombre, solo numero, numero treinta quatro, donde mirar el nombre?” (My Spanish for: “The wharf where the ship was in Baltimore does not have a name, just a number, number 34, where did you see a name?”)

“Por supuesto que tiene nombre” (Of course it has a name) Carlos objected, sounded slightly insulted that I doubt his word, “Hay una cartelera bien grande… justo afuera de las puertas de entrada… con el nombre… escrito en letras rojas…. es imposible de no verla… aqui, mirala por tu mismo!” (There is a big sign … just outside the gate … with a name .. red letters … you cannot possibly miss it …  here, look  for yourself!)” he said as handed me a piece of paper.

I took one look at the paper and could not hold myself, I burst into an uncontrollable laughter; on the paper, in Carlos’s handwriting were two words: “No Smoking”.

© Copyright Jacob Klamer 2010

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The Free Gaza Flotilla De-Mythed

Posted in Islam & Terror, Israel on June 5th, 2010 by Jacob

5 June 2010

The only criticism I have against Israel is that it held the activists in jails, had it been up to me, I would have held them in a park or a school in Shderot, the town that have suffered the brunt of the Hamas rockets for years  — Let them see and feel why the blockade on the Hamas is necessary — Oh well, it is too late for that now, they have been release.

As if on cue, the Israel Hate Brigade’s hysterics erupted as soon as it was known that the Israeli Navy Commando fighters were onboard the flagship of the so-called “Friendship Flotilla”, the “Mavi Maramara”,  long before any real facts had had came out, but hey, since when the Israel Hate Brigade needs facts? To the contrary, pesky facts achieve nothing but spoil a good sob story.

Firstly here are some the footage taken by the IDF and the Mavi Marmara’s CCTV:

Watch the full version of this clip here.

(You have to give it to them, to the activists; after the IDF uploaded some of the ship’s and activists own footage onto YouTube,  the activists  approached YouTube  and asked for “their” footage to be removed on a ground of …. copyrights – and I thought that ‘chutzpa’ is a Jewish trait).

The initial  catch phrase of the propaganda machine was “international waters”; according to them, Israel has broken International Law, by boarding a merchant ship outside its territorial waters — a powerful argument as it may be, it is simply wrong and misleading.

Indeed there is an International Law governing the circumstances under which a merchant ship may be stopped, inspected and forced into another port if necessary but as I explain here, you will see that Israel fully complied with International Law.

Before I explain, a few words about my credentials in maritime law;  those of my readers who know a bit  about me are aware of my professional background in shipping, both onboard ships and ashore. Although I am not a legal man per-se, my maritime career always required of me an in-depth knowledge of maritime law to be able to perform my duties  effectively, amongst those duties I served as a Maritime Arbitrator in disputes concerning maritime law on various occasions .

It is true that the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea (UNCLOS), guarantees the freedom of navigation on the high seas. The “high seas” is the legal term that is usually (wrongly) referred to as “international waters”, that is, the area of the sea which is outside the territorial waters of any one country.

Had the Israeli Navy boarded a merchant ship on the high seas, or even inside Israeli territorial water,s without a proper cause, with a few exceptions, it would be deemed as act of piracy, and rightly so, but this is not so in the case of the Mavi Marmara incident.

One of such relevant exceptions, in this case, is  Maritime Blockade. A maritime blockade exists when a country declares a specific area of the sea closed to ALL SHIPPING.

The Allied blockades on Germany and Japan in WWII, JFK blockade of Cuba during the missiles crisis (but not afterward),  the UN blockade on (Saadam Hussein’s) Iraq, the US blockade on North Vietnam are all examples of recent histoeryy legal maritime blockades.

What is A Maritime Blockade?

Firstly, the rules that govern maritime (and aerial) blockades are separate from these that govern other military blockades,  albeit there are some legal relations between them.

The San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 12 June 1994 defines the conditions which must be met for a maritime blockade to be legal under International Law:

Rule 93. A blockade shall be declared and notified to all belligerents and neutral States

In simple words; the blockade must be made known to everybody, including states that are not part of the conflict that led to the blockade. There are established procedures to issue such notices but I shall spare you the technicalities.

Rule 94. The declaration shall specify the commencement, duration, location, and extent of the blockade and the period within which vessels of neutral States may leave the blockaded coastline.

The blockade must specific as to the area under blockade (normally by coordinates), the timings of start and end of the blockade (“until further notice” is a valid timing) and a period within which, ships of nations that are not part of the conflict (neutral nations) can freely leave the blockaded area.

Rule 95. A blockade must be effective. The question whether a blockade is effective is a question of fact.

[My emphasis]

That means that the blockade must  be enforced, a blockade that is not strictly enforced automatically lapses. This also means that Israel, in this case, cannot allow some ships through the blockaded area but not others – it is “all or none” situation.

In fact the rule is even more specific;

Rule 100. A blockade must be applied impartially to the vessels of all States.

[my emphasis]

“All states” means just that, the ban must be total and applied equally to ships of all flags.

If, say, the USA, which Israel (still) fully trusts, requests permission to deliver aid to Gaza by an American ship, granting such request would be in breach of Rule 100, and would jeopardise the very legality of the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

And indeed there was an America ship (actually more a yacht than a ship), “Challenger I”, in the “flotilla”, she too was stopped and brought to Ashdod, thankfully without incident. Turkey can jump and yell all it likes but it has no legal leg to stand on.

As a matter of interest, the “Mavi Marmara”, the ship that was attacked, does not fly a Turkish flag, she is registered under a flag of convenience (FOC) in Comoros, a pacific island nation, thus under the law, she is not even a “Turkish ship”.

The other ships/crafts that were detained by Israel, without incidents, fly the flags of: Greece (2), Turkey (1), Sweden (1) and Kiribati (1). Neither the USA, nor any of these other countries protested because it was their ships who breached  International Law by attempting to run a blockade knowingly.

Although it is outside the our topic, the futility knowingly and deliberately of running a blockade is exemplified by the fact that it is also in a breach of the vessel’s insurance policy thus any damage, whether direct or consequential, would not be covered by the underwrites. If Israel impund the ship, there could be no claim agaist the insurer of the ship.

Can A Ship Be Stopped And Boarded On The High Seas?

We heard the “International waters” argument ad-nauseam, partly through ignorance but mostly as a pure propaganda.

A Navy ship is permitted to stop a merchant ship that intends to break a blockade, by force if necessary, anywhere, including on the high seas, in or out the blockaded area, inside its own territorial waters, inside a territorial nations of other nations who are part of the conflic  but not in a neutral state’s territorial waters.

Rule 10. Subject to other applicable rules of the law of armed conflict at sea contained in this document or elsewhere, hostile actions by naval forces may be conducted in, on or over:


(b) the high seas; and

[my emphasis]

Can A Merchant Ship be stopped By Force?

As a rule, a neutral merchant ships (not part of the conflict) may not be stopped, let alone attacked, not even in territorial waters, without a proper cause. In other words, Israel, or any country for that matter, cannot stop a merchant ship even within its territorial waters without a proper cause.

One of such causes is attempt to break a blockade;

Rule 67: Merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral States may not be attacked unless they:

(a) are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture.

[my emphasis]

Clearly, the “Mavi Marmara” fell under this rule; there was no question that the ship intended to breach the blockade on Gaza and, as it transpired, the ship intentionally and clearly resisted visit, search and capture.

A mere attempt to breach a blockade is not a proper cause for an attack, but;

Rule 98. Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked.

[My emphasis]

In simple words, if a ship does not resists boarding, she cannot be attacked; this was the precise situation with the other five ships in the flotilla. The procedure is simple; the Israeli Navy advise (not ask permission, just advise), that they are coming onboard, if there is no resistance there is cause for an attack.

The Legality Of The Blockade Itself

“Aha”, say the Israel Hate Brigade, “you are conveniently evading the rules that makes the blockade illegal altogether”. No, I am not, let us examine that rule;

102. The declaration or establishment of a blockade is prohibited if:

(a) it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or

(b) the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade.

[my emphasis]

The purpose of the blockade on Gaza has never aimed at the people of Gaza, If there is a sole purpose for the blockade on Gaza, and particularly the maritime blockade, it is intended to disrupt and prevent, as much as possible, Hamas ability to obtain weapon that are used against Israeli population.

As to the damage to civilian been excessive, no it is not! And certainly not the sea blockade, the sea blockade on Gaza cause little or no damage to its civilian population.

The Gaza Strip has never received its essential supplies by sea, NEVER!!!

All of Gaza essential supplies such as foods medicinal supplies, fuel, water, electricity, and what not have always transfered by land. The Gaza port is not a deep water port, in fact it is not a cargo port at all, it can only accommodate fishing boats and small craft; anything larger than that, say a cargo ship, has to be discharge on anchor on the open sea, and and brought ashore by barges.

Even as an open sea port, Gaza has extremely limited in its port facilities to and its ability handle cargo, I know, I was in the shipping business for forty years.

Gaza  would not survive a single day if it had to rely on its “port” for its essential supplies, The port of Gaza simply cannot handle Gaza total ,or even just its essential needs, much less when the Hamas, no doubt, would give priority to rockets and other military supplies from Iran and Syria, over foodstuff.

There is an alternative way, in fact the only way, to supply Gaza and that is by land, either through Israel or Egypt, as it has been for years. The question of whether the land blockade is too severe, is a different matter which I shall address later.

The calls to lift the sea blockade on Gaza are not about “starving children”, “oppressive occupation” and so on, it is about preventing Israel from defending itself.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of the Israel Hate Brigade’s lips service in countless instances saying something like “I don’t agree with Hamas launching rockets on Israel, but …..”;

Well, sir or madam, if you really disagree with what the Hamas is doing, what do you propose to do about it? I can be excused for disbelieving you, no you do not disagree with the Hamas, this is just a PC talk, it is empty of meaning, it intended to sounds good for the consumption of all the useful idiots out there.

The Israel Hate Brigade’s shrieks is not about helping the Palestinians, it is about weakening Israel ability to defend itself.

I leave you with a small quiz.

More information about what goes into Gaza here. Incidentally, the Israeli land blockade on the Hams is mirrored by Egypt but you wouldn’t know it, not from the corrupt bias main stream media anyhow.

Please Help to free Gaza! (from the Hamas)

© Copyright Jacob Klamer 2010, all rights reserved

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