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The seventh section forbids allotments except in accord with the provisions of the proposed act, reenacts the present penalty for a false claim of relationship, and for reasons already assigned fixes the same penalty for a false claim to be an original creditor or for a claim for a bogus debt.
The eighth and ninth sections reenact provisions of the act of 1884, as amended in 1886, subjecting foreign vessels in the United States to the same law, and exempting whaling vessels, for obvious reasons. The tenth section gives the power to make needed minor regulations, the eleventh section specifically repeals the laws for which this bill is proposed as a substitute, and the twelfth section allows one month to intervene between the enactment and enforcement of the measure, in order to give notice to interested parties and to prepare the necessary blanks.
To sum up the salient changes proposed, this bill will permit allotments to relatives by seamen shipping in the coasting trade before commissioners, which is now forbidden by the act of February 18, 1895. It limits allotments in the foreign trade to boarding-house keepers to one month's wages, instead of to half or more than half of all the sailor can earn during the whole voyage, as is the practice under the act of 1886. It prohibits allotments to boarding-house keepers by seamen in the coasting trade, when they do not ship before a commissioner as well as when they do. It permits allotments for clothing by seamen shipping in the coasting trade before a commissioner, which are prohibited by the act of February 18, 1895, and it provides the same penalty for a bogus claim to be an original creditor as is already provided for a bogus claim to be a relative.
It is believed that the enactment of the bill will do very much toward removing abuses of which American seamen have long complained and from which the seamen of foreign nations have been freed in part by better legislation and better administration than we have provided. Under the bill it is believed that a much larger part of the sailor's wages will go into his pocket than ever reach there now. The money may not stay there longer, but the theory of our law requires that it should at least be put there, where it belongs. It will remove the burden of debt which now rests on the sailor throughout a long voyage, and thus remove one incentive to desertion and misconduct, and establish an incentive to honest work, frugality, and self-reliance. The bill has been drafted to meet reasonable objections, in view of the experience of the act of 1884 and its subsequent amendment. It will not meet the objections of those who in one form or another contrive to win away from the American seaman more than half his wages before they are earned. It is not experimental, for in its principal new phases it is in successful operation by the largest maritime power of the world or in partial and thus far necessarily defective operation in the United States.
The practical working of the present law is shown by this statement of the shipping commissioner at New York, before whom were shipped and discharged nearly one-third of all the seamen who came before shipping commissioners last year:
A portion of the money acquired by the giving of these allotment notes is said to go to shipping agents, who contract with the owners, agents, or captains of vessels to furnish them crews. This is called among the sailors "blood money." These shipping agents appear to work in company with the keepers of the sailors' boarding houses. Captains and sailors alike say that a sailor who does not go to a sailors' boarding house as soon as he gets ashore can not get another ship. The shipping agents will not give him a chance. On the other hand, these same boarding-house
keepers complain once in a while, in moments of temporary indignation, that the shipping agents will not take any men out of their houses unless they pay "blood money.' Between them is appropriated the amount of the allotment note, and the sailor goes to sea with a good share of his wages used up.
The shipping commissioner at San Francisco gives the following instructive testimony concerning the operations of the present law:
It is currently reported, and I have no doubt it is true, that masters of sailing vessels demand and receive from sailor boarding-house masters a bonus for each seaman supplied, and of course this bonus is charged to the seaman. But how is this to be established, as the only one who can supply the evidence is the seaman himself, and he invariably denies that he has paid for the privilege of shipping? The manner in which a master obtains his crew at present is to come to this office and give an order for his complement of men in the book entitled "Masters' order for seamen, etc." He then at once gives another order, in these terms: "I hereby authorize to furnish the crew of and present them for shipment to the United States shipping commissioner," signed by the master. The master rarely appears again until he comes to the office to get his articles to clear at the customhouse. He may not have seen a single man that has been shipped until the crew is mustered on the eve of the vessel's departure.
Now, the master of the vessel receives from the shipping master so much a man, and the shipping master charges the seaman so much for supplying him with a berth, the price varying according to the demand for seamen. The rate at present is supposed to be $7.50 per man. We impress upon each seaman, as he signs the articles, that it is a violation of the law for anyone to demand money of him for the privilege of shipping, and if any person has demanded money of him, and he will produce such person, that he will be punished according to law. He declares that he has paid no one any money for his berth. We then ask what his allotment note is for. He replies "Board and lodging and clothing." The men are well coached, for they never falter in their answers. The seamen make this denial through fear of their landlords, for they are given to understand that if they inform upon them they will be marked men and turned into the street to starve. I have also heard that they make some of the men believe that by paying this bonus they (the seamen) are the guilty parties, and if it be discovered they will be put in jail.
The boarding house masters say they would like to see the bonus system broken up as a matter of self-interest, because they often find when they come to settle with the sailors that the allotment note is not sufficient to cover their bills when they have to allow a bonus to the master of the vessel and the shipping master. If the boarding-house master would refuse to supply sailors except through this office such action would break up the bonus system.
There are boarding-house masters who rob the sailors, but there are others who treat them decently. These men do give the sailor something for his money in the way of board and clothing. I know this to be a fact, because the crew of every deepwater vessel is mustered before she sails. My deputy inquires of each man as his name is called if he has been supplied by his boarding-house master with what he needed. At times they reply that they have not received what was agreed upon. The deputy then sends for the boarding-house master and compels him to furnish what is lacking. The boarding-house masters know that they are liable to be called up in this way, and it rarely occurs now that they ship a man who is not fairly provided with an outfit. The boarding-house masters control the sailors. It is deplorable that this should be the case, but I see no remedy for it as long as the sailor is so improvident, for it is a common thing to pay him off in the morning and by night he will not have enough money to pay for a bed. In this helpless condition he is taken in by the boarding-house master, provided with board and lodging, and when he ships again is given a certain amount of clothing, the boarding master remunerating himself out of the allotment note.
Many persons maintain the allotment note is a curse to the sailor; that if he did not have the assurance of so much credit he would be more careful of his money, abandon his riotous ways, and be independent of the boarding-house master. I am not prepared to say that the abolition of the allotment note would bring about the reformation of the sailor; I doubt it extremely.
The British consul issued a circular two years ago upon the subject of masters of British ships demanding a bonus of from $5 to $10 for each seaman supplied, calling their attention to the violation of the law and declaring that he would endeavor to procure evidence of any such act for transmission to the committee of the privy council for trade, London. His circular was utterly ignored, and it is notorious that the British shipmasters continue to demand and receive a bonus. So far as I know no master of a vessel or shipping master has ever been punished at this port for the violation of this law, and as long as they can make money out of the sailor with impunity they will continue to do so.
The objection will be made to the measure proposed that it will render it more difficult to obtain crews, will delay the departure of vessels, and thus hamper commerce. This objection is based on the fact that the allotment note gives the boarding house keeper and "shipping agent" a direct pecuniary interest in supplying crews. It implies that they can accomplish this work better than commissioners created by Congress for that purpose. Analyzed, it will be found to be an assent to the proposition that a large part of the seaman's wages are to be taken from him and he is to be kept in a state of idleness and dependence or worse because the Government is unable to carry out in practice its theory of protection to seamen, and must abandon the field to those who thrive on the overthrow of that theory.
The New York shipping commissioner states that he is able to supply crews without the intervention of middlemen, and there is no reason to believe that other commissioners are not equally competent to discharge that duty, especially if the improved facilities which are recommended elsewhere in this report shall be granted by Congress.
No considerable difficulty is now experienced in the British mercantile marine offices in supplying crews, and the merchant marine of that country is almost wholly freed from the tax, whether it fall on owner, master, or seaman, involved in the employment of outside parties to supply crews. The commissioners at New York, Boston, and New Orleans, who shipped and discharged half the seamen who came before commissioners last year, report that the partial abolition of the allotment note has operated satisfactorily to all interests concerned. It is conceded that the change from the present to a better system will at first be accompanied by difficulties and possibly occasional delays and mistakes, inseparable from any change, but this consideration ought not to stand in the way when a permanent improvement is to be effected. The objection may be made that the present law is sufficient and that if wrong is done to the seaman under it the fault rests with the manner of enforcing it, and administration, not the statute, needs correction. Undoubtedly the law as it stands could and should be much better enforced, but it is equally certain that a simpler, more equitable and more consistent statute can be more easily and more surely enforced. It will doubtless prove difficult under the proposed act to prevent the absorption by others of the seaman's wages before they are earned, but the bill will at least lessen the amount of which he can be legally deprived.
Taken with the measure for the improvement of shipping commissioners' offices, this bill will bring our laws upon the shipment of seamen nearly or quite abreast of the laws on the subject which other nations have of late years found it desirable to adopt.
IMPRISONMENT OF SEAMEN FOR DESERTION IN THE UNITED STATES.
The laws of the United States convey the impression by the severity of their penalties that the American seaman is less amenable to discipline and more addicted to lawbreaking and reckless disregard of the interests of the owners and masters of vessels than the seamen of other nations. There is no apparent reason for this impression outside that furnished by the laws, and it is not believed that the impression reflects actual facts. It is more probable that the laws themselves are at fault. Many of our statutes relating to navigation were based on British models, beyond which Great Britain has advanced, while the United States remain stationary in reliance upon laws which probably work quite as much harm as good.
The laws concerning the imprisonment of seamen for desertion illustrate the difference in the manner in which the two nations, originally having the same laws, have separated. If an American deserts his vessel for any reason, at home or abroad, he becomes liable to imprisonment in jail for three months and to the forfeiture of all his wages and effects on board. If he is absent without leave he becomes liable to one month's imprisonment and the forfeiture of a stated portion of his wages. Upon apprehension for desertion he is committed to the common jail at his own expense until his vessel is ready to sail, when he may be conveyed on board at the master's request. These laws were enacted in 1790, and at the time were also the laws in force in Great Britain. But that country for the last fourteen years has made a sharp distinction between the penalties inflicted on her recalcitrant seamen at home and abroad. Abroad, they are subject to imprisonment and the full rigor of old laws, while in the United Kingdom imprisonment for desertion has been abolished and the forfeiture of wages and effects is the only penalty inflicted. But while deserters are not put in the common jails in Great Britain, they are subject to apprehension without a warrant by the owner or master, and the police may be invoked to convey them to the ship on which they had contracted to serve. At the same time the seaman who is thus placed under arrest has the right of demanding that he be taken before a magistrate and allowed to state his case. If the court decides in his favor the master or owner responsible for the arrest becomes liable to a penalty of $100.
It is believed that this system is better for all interests than our system of imprisonment in the jail. It gives to those responsible for ́ the voyage of a vessel the same measure of support from the police authorities which they have under the present system, and imposes no further burden upon them than that of retaining on the vessel the deserter, instead of making him the prisoner of the local authorities. If the object desired is to retain the services of the deserter, it can be more effectively reached by placing him where those services are to be rendered rather than even temporarily in jail. It removes the wellfounded objection that imprisonment is an unusual penalty for the violation of a civil contract, and that the sailor should not be singled out for adverse discrimination as compared with other men who work. It is better for the seaman, because, while compelling him to abide by his contract, it does so through the medium of the vessel and his shipmates, instead of through the medium of the jail and its lazy and criminal inmates. It should certainly meet with the favor of local authorities at our maritime ports who are spared the necessity of acting as custodians of truant sailors. Finally, its adoption by the nation with the largest experience in maritime affairs and with the largest interest in the uninterrupted prosecution of commerce is presumption that the measure is practical and an improvement upon former methods. United States consuls at several of the leading English seaports have obtained the views of owners, masters, and seamen as to the operation of the British law, and it is approved by the majority. The reports of consuls are in Appendix G.
It is well understood that this proposition will meet with opposition both from shipowners and seamen in some instances. Some of the former, looking only at narrow personal interests, will prefer the exist ing order of things by which local prisons, when applied to, relieve them of the care of deserting seamen, while some of the latter will insist that the seaman should be free to come and go at will. Striking a just balance of all interests, however, the propositions stated are believed to
be more conducive to the successful prosecution of commerce than either the present law or various modifications which have been recently proposed by bill in Congress.
The necessary amendments to sections 4596 and 4598 of the Revised Statutes to carry out these recommendations have been incorporated in bill H. It is provided, in brief, that the penalty for desertion shall be forfeiture of wages and effects, and if the offense is committed in a foreign country imprisonment for not over two months is added. The extreme limit of imprisonment is reduced from three months to two months, because we fix the latter period as the limit during which seamen deserting from foreign vessels may be imprisoned in this country at the request of foreign consuls (Revised Statutes, sec. 5280), and there is no apparent reason why a heavier sentence should be inflicted on American seamen abroad than we impose on foreign seamen in the United States. If the offense is less than desertion the penalty proposed is the present partial forfeiture of wages and, except in the United States, imprisonment for one month. Deserters may be reclaimed with or without the assistance of the police, but shall be conveyed on board instead of committed to jail. Any seaman so apprehended may apply, in accord with section 4599, Revised Statutes, which is made part of the act, to the courts for a hearing, and if the decision is in his favor the master or owner causing the arrest becomes liable to a fine of $100.
The provisions of the present British law, permitting a seaman in his own country to leave a ship on at least forty-eight hours' notice to the master or owner, has been incorporated as section 3 of the bill. The bill is made applicable to the coastwise as well as to the foreign trade. Its application to the coastwise trade modifies the act of February 18, 1895, in so far as that act removed all restrictions upon desertion in the coasting trade, and allowed the sailor to leave his ship at will, subject to no penalty but the forfeiture of wages and effects, except clothing, on board. The same penalty is provided in the bill proposed, but it has the further provision for rendering the deserter on board his vessel. While the act of February 18, 1895, has worked some desirable reforms, there has been general complaint of the frequency of desertions, the impairment of discipline, and the interruptions of commerce under it. It is believed that the failure to provide against desertion was accidental and will be fully corrected by the measure proposed.
The eighth amendment to the Constitution reads: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." The penalty imposed by section 4558 of the Revised Statutes, enacted in 1790, upon a seaman who refuses to join his vessel after a court of survey has pronounced her seaworthy, comes nearer to this constitutional prohibition than any other section of the Statutes. The section provides in such cases:
It shall be lawful for any justice of the peace to commit, by warrant under his hand and seal, every such seaman who refuses to the common jail of the county, there to remain without bail or mainprise until he has paid double the sum advanced to him at the time of subscribing the contract for the voyage, together with such reasonable costs as are allowed by the justice, and inserted in the warrant; and the sureties of such seaman, in case he has given any, shall remain liable for such payment; nor shall any such seaman be discharged upon any writ of habeas corpus or otherwise, for want of any form of commitment, or other previous proceedings, until such sum is paid by him or his surety, if sufficient matter be made to appear, upon the return of such habeas corpus, and an examination then had, to detain him for the causes herein before assigned.