To address recruiting and staffing challenges, the Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA) called on the U.S. Coast Guard to reinstate a labor policy that expired 30 years ago. Until 1992, entry-level seafarers could begin working on ocean-going vessels while waiting for the National Maritime Center to approve their application for a Merchant Seaman (MMC) qualification.
Using a “temporary identification certificate” from the USCG, new deckhands could embark on their first voyage as soon as they passed their physical and drug test. The form should include a copy of the new sailor’s TWIC application, but should be a document similar in other respects to the 1990s version. To cover the NMC processing time schedule, OMSA recommends the certificate is valid for 90 days.
“Many vessel operators engaged in offshore energy markets face a significant hurdle in attracting and securing potential entry-level sailors, as these sailors must wait for the USCG to process and approve their MMC application. approval is significant, the NMC is currently reporting an average overall turnaround time of just over 50 days for November 2021,” OMSA President Aaron Smith said in a letter to Rear Admiral John Mauger, Coast Guard Deputy Commander for Prevention Policy “Most Americans do not have the finances and support networks to sustain a delay of weeks or even months in obtaining the required MMC.”
Based on data from the NMC, OMSA believes that this change would create very little risk. In 2020, NMC received over 48,000 applications for a new MMC and only turned down 105, or about 0.2%. “Overall, a 99.8% acceptance rate does not justify the difficulties caused by processing delays that last for weeks or even months,” Smith said.
Smith noted that many new deckhands are already working around the NMC schedule by starting their careers on inland vessels, which are exempt from MMC requirements for qualifications. While working on an inland tug, the applicant applies for an MMC, then – when the credential finally arrives – quits and moves into the offshore industry. This adds friction and complexity, and many candidates choose to work in a different industry instead.
To ensure continued safety, OMSA notes that the Coast Guard may restrict access to this program only to shipping companies that have an appropriate SMS in place for training. Existing MARSEC requirements for escort visitors and new employees would ensure that security standards are maintained at current levels.