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HQ H003800

November 29, 2006

VES-3-02-RR:BSTC:CCI H003800 IDL


Mr. Witt Dukes
Norton Lilly International
952 Houston Northcutt Boulevard
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina 29464

RE: Coastwise Transportation: 46 U.S.C. § 55103; 19 CFR § 4.50(b); 19 CFR § 4.80a

Dear Mr. Dukes:

This is in response to your correspondence of November 29, 2006, with respect to the coastwise transportation of the family of a certain individual aboard a foreign-built vessel. Our response on this matter is set forth below.


You stated that an Assistant Engineer providing his services aboard the SL QUALITY (a U.S.-flagged, foreign-built vessel documented with the U.S. Coast Guard with a registry endorsement) will be required, due to the illness of his relief, to remain onboard the vessel beyond his normal tour of duty. Rather than disembarking in Charleston, South Carolina, the Assistant Engineer will have to remain on board and disembark in Houston, Texas.

You inquired whether the wife and young children of the Assistant Engineer may board the vessel in Charleston and disembark in Houston in order that the family could together celebrate during the voyage the birthday of one of the children.


Whether the use of a foreign-built, U.S.-flagged vessel with a registry endorsement in transporting the family members of an Assistant Engineer aboard the vessel from one U.S. port to another U.S. port would constitute a violation of 46 U.S.C. § 55103?


Generally, the coastwise laws prohibit the transportation of passengers or merchandise between points in the United States embraced within the coastwise laws in any vessel other than a vessel built in, documented under the laws of, and owned by citizens of the United States. Such a vessel, after it has obtained a coastwise endorsement from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), is said to be “coastwise-qualified.”

The coastwise laws generally apply to points in the territorial sea, which is defined as the belt, three nautical miles wide, seaward of the territorial sea baseline, and to points located in internal waters, landward of the territorial sea baseline.

The coastwise law applicable to the carriage of passengers is found in 46 U.S.C. § 55103 (formerly 46 U.S.C. App. § 289) and provides that:

In General.—Except as otherwise provided in this chapter or chapter 121 of this title [herein inapplicable], a vessel may not transport passengers between ports or places in the United States to which the coastwise laws apply, either directly or via a foreign port, unless the vessel— is wholly owned by citizens of the United States for purposes of engaging in the coastwise trade; and has been issued a certificate of documentation with a coastwise endorsement under chapter 121 or is exempt from documentation but would otherwise be eligible for such a certificate and endorsement. (b) Penalty.—The penalty for violating subsection (a) is $300 for each passenger transported and landed.

Section 4.50(b), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Regulations (19 CFR 4.50(b)) provides as follows:

A passenger within the meaning of this part is any person carried on a vessel who is not connected with the operation of such vessel, her navigation, ownership, or business.

Section 4.80a(b)(1) of the CBP Regulations (19 CFR 4.80a(b)(1)) provides that “[i]f the passenger is on a voyage solely to one or more coastwise ports and the passenger disembarks or goes ashore temporarily at a coastwise port, there is a violation of the coastwise law.

In HQ 111871 (September 11, 1991), we addressed the issue of whether the coastwise transportation of the wife of a clergyman hired to conduct religious services onboard a non-coastwise-qualified vessel would constitute a violation of section 289. We stated that “[w]hile a clergymen who would be directly or immediately connected with the vessel’s operation, navigation, ownership, or business may be exempt from passenger status under section 4.50(b), the wife of such a person [accompanying] her husband for family purposes” would not be exempt from passenger status. As such, we ruled that the transportation of the wife would be prohibited under the provisions of section 289.

Similarly, in the present case, to the extent that the Assistant Engineer would be engaged in any shipboard activities while traveling on the foreign-built, non-coastwise-qualified vessel between coastwise ports, that would be “directly and substantially” related to the operation or business of the vessel itself, such individual would not be considered to be a passenger (see HQ 116721, supra, HQ 116659 (May 19, 2006), referencing the “direct and substantial” test). See also, e.g., Customs telex 104712 (July 21, 1980), finding that repairmen were not passengers when carried aboard a foreign vessel between U.S. ports “for [the] purpose of repairing vessel en route between such ports.”

However, members of the family of the Assistant Engineer would not be “directly and substantially” engaged in the operation or business of the foreign-built, non-coastwise-qualified vessel, and, therefore, would be deemed passengers. Accordingly, the coastwise transportation of the family members aboard the foreign-built, non-coastwise-qualified vessel would violate 46 U.S.C. § 55103.


The use of a foreign-built, non-coastwise-qualified U.S.-flagged vessel in transporting the family members of an Assistant Engineer aboard the vessel from one U.S. port to another U.S. port would constitute a violation of 46 U.S.C. § 55103.


Glen E. Vereb

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