MarAd, operators say nation could face shortage of mariners

Federal agencies and vessel operators are voicing worries over a looming shortage of graduate mariners in the U.S. merchant marine.

Paul Jaenichen, head of the Maritime Administration (MarAd), has warned of a shortage of 73,000 mariners by 2022. Of more immediate concern, he said there would be a “perfect storm” after January 2017 because of new international licensing rules and credentials. The changes in the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) are being introduced by the International Maritime Organization.

Crowley Maritime, one of the largest vessel operators in the country and the largest Jones Act operator, agrees with Jaenichen. 

“STCW is of some concern,” said Jenny Terpenning, marine personnel recruiter at Crowley. “We have been working very closely with mariners who are already in our employment to become compliant with the new standards, but when it comes to recruiting new people, that is where we have questions about whether they will have the right level of qualifications.”

Crowley has 2,400 permanent merchant mariners on its staff. Zoe Goss, director of marine development, said, “Crowley is confident that their existing permanent mariners will be 100 percent STCW-compliant by the beginning of 2017.”

Goss said the difficulty of finding qualified officers could be compounded by older officers opting for retirement. 

“They could well decide that the cost and effort of attending additional training is just not worth it and opt to retire,” she said.

Goss said Crowley, like the rest of the industry, has been “proactive” in working through the American Maritime Partnership to draw on the military for qualified personnel. She said the Army is the biggest source of merchant mariners, while the Coast Guard is working hard to seek approval to get their active-duty personnel qualified.

“The Navy is still in the early stages,” she said.

Jaenichen said MarAd is working with the Coast Guard to speed up merchant mariner credentialing.

According to MarAd, the country’s six state maritime academies produce 900 graduates a year and are operating at capacity. Terpenning and Goss agreed that this could lead to difficulties in finding mariners.

The biggest state academy, California Maritime, has 1,060 students. In 2015-2016, the school produced 244 graduates, of which 115 had Coast Guard licenses. The rest have shoreside qualifications. Of seven majors, the most popular was marine transportation with 71 graduates.

“Graduates usually find positions very quickly,” said academy spokesman Robert King. “Across all majors, 92 percent of Cal Maritime graduates had confirmed placement into either careers or graduate programs within six months of commencement in 2014.”

The academy plans to stay at the same size and estimates that in the next 20 years, 5,500 students will graduate.

Despite MarAd’s anxiety over a shortage of qualified mariners, the agency has not put any pressure on Cal Maritime to increase numbers. 

“MarAd has not requested enrollment growth and the number of selected service officer (SSO) program billets has also remained steady,” said Mike Kazek, director of Coast Guard licensing programs at the school. “In regard to the licensed majors and their ability to grow, some are limited by space constraints on the training ship (Golden Bear) and in the simulators.”

By Professional Mariner Staff