- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

GENEVA The United States has intensified international efforts to adopt a new global labor accord that would create a secure international identity document for the world's 1.2 million merchant seafarers using biometrics.
Some of the options envisaged include a retinal scan, an electronic fingerprint scan, and other information that would be coded in a secure number in the document.
Washington is also pushing for the new document to include a digital photo and data that would facilitate rapid verification.
The initiative is part of the Bush administration's push for tighter security to prevent acts of terrorism against shipping.
"We're halfway through an expedited process," said a high level U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"New secure data is needed," he added.
The official said the objective is for the 175 member nations of the International Labor Organization to draft a new instrument that would be presented for approval to the agency's ruling conference in June 2003.
As of October 2004, all U.S. visas will be required to include a biometric template. This development, say officials, is putting pressure on governments, seafarers unions and shipowners to energize their efforts.
U.S. and ILO officials admit there are still some sticky issues to be resolved involving privacy concerns and technology.
"We're still looking if an international technology standard could be acceptable," said a senior ILO diplomat.
One approach floated is to get a consortium of high-tech manufacturers to work together and agree to use the same standard for their products, as has been the case with digital cameras.
It's also still undecided whether the machine to read the biometrics data would also be required to be on board ships and in all the world's ports that handle international shipping.
Some poor developing countries such as India, Egypt and Nigeria have indicated that they would need technical assistance.
"The range of biometrics needs to be as technology-neutral [as possible]," said a U.S. Maritime Administration official.
Both shipowners and seafarer unions agree that there's a need for a more secure document in light of the new terrorist threats.
In effect, the new instrument would overtake the ILO's 1958 Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention, which has been ratified by 61 states, including merchant shipping powers such as Greece, Norway and Denmark, but not the United States and Japan.
The International Shipping Federation, an umbrella group for shipowners and companies, has argued the new identity documents instrument in the context of maritime security "will be unlikely to achieve its objective unless it is ratified by all the major maritime nations, including those that have not ratified the current convention Number 108."
International seafarers need to go onshore for temporary leave or to try to join another ship or to transit for repatriation, and are therefore around facilities considered security sensitive, such as airports and air terminals.
Under the 1958 accord, the seafarers identity document removes the need for visas for such purposes. However, the 44-year-old accord did not include provisions for an international identity card.

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