Two proposed federal rules would require mariners to obtain a biometric identity card and would also combine four existing maritime credentials into one document.
The ID cards would allow entry to designated ports and vessels, and the new Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) would contain all the mariner’s professional qualifications.
The two rules, which will be considered jointly, were first revealed on May 22. The start date for the identity card program depends on how long it takes for the federal government to respond to comments and make the proposed rule final. The new rule for merchant mariner qualification documents would not start until 18 months after the ID card rule is in place.
The first rule would require all mariners who now hold a Merchant Mariner’s Document, Merchant Mariner’s License, Certificate of Registry or a Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) endorsement to obtain a biometric identification card that will contain 10 fingerprints and a digital photo.
This biometric ID, called the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), is being developed in response to the requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. In addition, any worker who needs unescorted access to vessels and maritime facilities regulated by the Maritime Transportation and Security Act would also need to obtain a TWIC card, including port workers, longshoremen, barge operators, truck drivers and rail workers.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the U.S. Coast Guard developed the TWIC program, but it will be run by the TSA. At least 750,000 maritime and port workers are expected to enroll in the program, according to the TSA, and 10,785 vessels and 3,492 facilities will have to meet these requirements.
For the TWIC program, workers would be divided into three groups and enrollment would be staggered over 18 months. The change to the new Merchant Mariner Credential would be staggered over five years, during which a mariner could hold either the MMC or the old documents.
The Coast Guard had considered making the Merchant Mariner Document into a biometric ID, “but then ours would look different from everybody else’s,” said Gerald Miante of the Coast Guard’s Office of Operating and Environmental Standards, Marine Personnel Qualifications Division. It was decided that it would be better for national security if there was just one ID, rather than different cards for each segment of the maritime industry.
Workers will have to travel to TSA enrollment centers located in 125 ports in 38 states to obtain a TWIC card. Workers who have undergone a current background check would pay about $105; other workers would pay about $139 for the new ID, which is valid for five years.
Introducing the TWIC would add a fifth document for some mariners. To avoid that outcome, the Coast Guard decided to combine four merchant mariner documents into a single Merchant Mariner Credential. The format of this credential is under development, but it is expected to resemble the recently released STCW endorsement. It will also include a photo of the mariner that matches the one on the TWIC card and security features such as watermarks and microprinting.
The streamlining of credentials will not change the training, experience or other requirements for merchant mariner qualification documents, according to the Coast Guard. Mariners will also no longer have to go to a regional exam center for their mariner qualification documents.
As part of the TWIC process, applicants would have all 10 fingerprints analyzed and a digital photo taken, which would be stored electronically. There would be two fingerprints stored on the actual ID, one of which would be required for identity verification. Personal information would be encrypted to very high standards before it was transferred or stored, according to the TSA. Once the data had been transmitted to the TSA system, it would be automatically deleted from the enrollment center.
After the TWIC card has been created, the worker would have to return to the TSA enrollment center to activate this ID. The mariner would place the finger used as identification on the TSA reader to confirm identity. Once confirmed, the TWIC card would be activated and a personal identification number (PIN) picked, which would also be stored on the ID.
Applicants would also have to submit personal information for a security-threat appraisal, based on rules already established by the TSA for issuing hazardous-materials endorsement for truck drivers. For the threat appraisal, the TSA checks criminal history records, terrorist watch lists, outstanding warrants and immigration status. Workers could be denied a TWIC card if they have been convicted within seven years or jailed within five years for any of 14 crimes, including assault with intent to murder, kidnapping, rape, arson and conspiracy.
According to the proposed rule, port operators and vessel owners should give workers at least 60 days notice to start the TWIC process.
Vessel and facility owners would have to purchase and install TWIC card readers. The estimated total costs for small business is between about $9,000 and $12,000.
The proposed rules have begun to spark criticism from the industry. The government did not provide enough time for public comment, according to Ed Welch, legislative director for the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA). The deadline for submitting comment was July 6. Welch’s group has asked for an additional 90 days and requested that two more hearings be held in the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico regions.
In addition, the PVA believes the time that it will take for a mariner to apply for and get a TWIC — about 60 days — is too long. Many of its members hire seasonal workers. “Anybody who has to have a TWIC card for the summer, the summer will be half gone” by the time the card arrives, Welch said.
“Another major concern is the substantial cost of the multiple readers on vessels and facilities,” said Welch. The group also questions whether the technology of the readers has been proven, particularly when it comes to communicating the list of TWIC cards that are not valid to the individual readers.
The Coast Guard also proposes that owners/operators keep records for two years of everyone admitted to the facility. Those granted escorted access would have to be recorded with the date and the name of the escort. “That seems to be a massive amount of record-keeping for an unspecified purpose,” Welch said.
Washington State Ferries, with 1,800 employees, does not have a response to the TWIC proposal. However, all employees already carry photo IDs with scannable bar codes, according to Susan Harris, customer information manager. The wheelhouses on some vessels and the 24-hour-operations center cannot be accessed unless the employee scans the ID card into a reader, which is programmed to reject unauthorized people, she said.