When the U.S. government began requiring seaport workers to have nationally standardized security credentials last year, thousands of international seafarers were left stranded because they did not qualify for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). International mariners were not allowed to pass through designated secure areas on ports, such as docks and cargo yards, after leaving their ships unless escorted by a person with a TWIC card.

Port Everglades partnered with the non-profit port chaplaincy and seafarers' service provider, Seafarers' House, to develop a TWIC-escorted transportation service that benefits the mariners and the local business community where the average mariner spends an estimated $89.24 per port call, according to the Florida Caribbean Cruise Industry.

"The TWIC program created an additional responsibility for personnel working shore side who were taken away from their regular duties to escort crew members. And it was stressful for the mariners who had been at sea for long periods of time and looked forward to their short time ashore while their ship was in port, whether to replenish their supplies at local businesses or take care of business at home," said Deputy Port Director Glenn Wiltshire. "Fortunately, Seafarers' House stepped forward and offered us a solution that provides an invaluable service while meeting federal requirements."

As a result of the program's success, Seafarers' House has been approved to receive $82,200 from the Department of Homeland Security Port Security Grant Program to purchase new vans.

The free van service operated by Seafarers' House at Port Everglades, with TWIC card-carrying drivers, picks up mariners at their ship and takes them to the Seafarers' House facility or into the city. In its first year, Seafarers' House escorted and provided transportation for more than 32,000 crew members.

"The impressive number of TWIC escorts in Port Everglades provided by Seafarers House shows a healthy return on investment," said U.S. Coast Guard Commander Brian Gove, who recently retired with 22 years of service. "The TWIC escorting service provided by Seafarers House is a best practice for other Port areas to follow as part of their entire security system."

Seafarers' House Executive Director Lesley Warrick said the additional vans will help offset the cost of replacing older vehicles while continuing to allow her organization to provide free transportation for mariners who may otherwise have to stay onboard their ships during their shore leave.

"These TWIC transports not only save seafarers money and shore leave time, but they also enable seafarers to have immediate contact with a reliable and friendly person who can refer them to expedient and safe places for renewing their personal supplies and energies. We provide this service as part of our mission of hospitality and outreach to the strangers on our shores and are very pleased with its success and with the positive collaboration with our partners in Port Everglades," Warrick said.

As Port Everglades is one of the world's busiest cruise ports, especially during the winter months, an average of 7,189 TWIC escorts were provided per month to seafarers during the winter and an average of 3,600 in the off-season summer months. During the past year, Seafarers' House provided transportation services to crew members from 223 ships - 137 cargo ships, 54 petroleum tankers and 32 cruise ships.

Said one crew member from a visiting cargo ship, "Seafarers' House service is safe and reliable - you can call anytime you need the van to go to or from the ship and the service is very friendly and warm."

Seafarers' House of Port Everglades is a nonprofit organization that provides spiritual, social, material and emergency support services to mariners visiting the South Florida seaport. Established in 1988, Seafarers' House continues a 200-year-old maritime tradition of giving safe harbor and support to seafarers. More information about Seafarers' House is available at www.seafarershouse.org.

As one of South Florida's leading economic powerhouses, Port Everglades is the gateway for international trade and cruise vacations. Already one of the busiest cruise ports worldwide, Port Everglades is also one of the nation's leading container ports. And, Port Everglades is South Florida's main seaport for receiving petroleum products including gasoline, jet fuel and alternative fuels. The Port Everglades Department is a self-supporting Enterprise Fund of Broward County government with operating revenues of approximately $109.7 million in Fiscal Year 2009 (October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009). It does not rely on local tax dollars for operations. The total value of economic activity at Port Everglades is approximately $14 billion. More than 143,000 Florida jobs are impacted by the Port, including almost 10,000 people who work for companies that provide direct services to Port Everglades.