The Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA) is pressing the U.S. Coast Guard to once again allow entry-level mariners to work on a provisional basis while waiting for their merchant mariner credential (MMC).
The service previously allowed such a practice between 1936 and 1992. OMSA, a nonprofit trade group based in New Orleans, wants the Coast Guard to reinstate the Temporary Certificate of Identification for mariners who have applied for their MMC but have not yet received it back.
“We realize that we need a way to get some more people working as fast as we can,” OMSA President Aaron Smith told Professional Mariner.
The Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center received 55,237 MMC applications last year and rejected just 126 of them. The average processing time was 27 days. Still, some can take substantially longer. Earlier this year, the service said nearly half of MMC applications were incomplete or missing critical information. This typically leads to processing delays.
Smith argued the maritime industry is losing candidates who can’t afford to wait that long to start working. “They go and take another job, and the problem is they never come back.”
The low rejection rate for MMC candidates makes it unlikely that an unqualified person would slip into a crew while waiting for their license, Smith said. Employers, he added, have their own screening processes to root out problematic candidates.
“We already know the person’s passed the drug test. We already know the person’s passed their physical. They’ve already submitted their [Transportation Worker Identification Credential] TWIC application. The weeding out has already been done. So why are we just waiting for paperwork to be done?”
Records from the U.S. House of Representatives show that the 1936 Merchant Marine Act, which sought to develop the maritime industry as part of a national defense strategy, allowed for the Temporary Certificate of Identification form for new hires. A 1992 Coast Guard manual stated they would no longer be recognized.
The Coast Guard said that decision stems statutory changes that took effect in the early 1990s. Those changes make it impossible to reinstate, said Kurt Fredrickson, a service spokesman.
“While the Coast Guard welcomes OMSA’s suggestions to help recruit and retain talent within the maritime industry, the reinstatement of the Temporary Certificate of Identification can unfortunately not be done,” he said in an email. “The U.S. Code prohibits the issuance of a merchant mariner document for a term of other than five years subject to narrow exceptions. The statutory authority to issue temporary credentials as suggested no longer exists.”
Smith first presented the case for the policy shift in a letter to Rear Admiral John Mauger, the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for prevention policy. He intends to press the issue in an upcoming face-to-face meeting with Coast Guard officials.
“Let’s get people into this industry quick, because what we find is if they get in and they stay a year, they’re going to make a career out of it, and we put them on that pathway to a very good income,” he said. “But getting over that initial hurdle is tough.”