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Submitted by Capt. David Whitehurst

New legislation aims to ease documentation process for U.S. mariners
Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) introduced legislation this week aimed at streamlining the documentation
process for merchant mariners and establishing provisions that could ease the transition for mariners as
new credentialing requirements are implemented.
H.R. 1605, “The Merchant Mariner Credentials Improvement Act,” would make the process for obtaining
bill also contains provisions to help account for backlogs in application processing, among other things.  In
his announcement of the legislation, the Ohio congressman focused on the documentation challenges
faced by American mariners sailing on the Great Lakes, although provisions of H.R. 1605 would also
apply to mariners in other shipping trades. “If you’re going to work on a large vessel you must have these
credentials, and we’ve got a situation where folks can’t get their credentials renewed or issued in a timely
fashion,” Rep. LaTourette said. “These are very specialized jobs that require background checks, and our
Great Lake shippers can’t just call a temporary agency to hire a worker or two if they are understaffed. We
need to have a system in place so the paperwork is completed quickly and job applicants who meet all the
requirements can be processed and approved. “A backlog of new and renewal applications for
documents exists and is hampering the ability of Great Lakes shippers to keep vessels fully staffed, Rep.
LaTourette said.
In his announcement, Rep. LaTourette noted the ongoing implementation of the transportation worker
identification credential (TWIC) program, which was developed by the Department of Homeland Security
to meet the requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.  Under the TWIC final rule
issued in January by the Transportation Security Administration, TWIC cards will replace merchant
mariner documents by September 2008 as security identification for merchant mariners. Additionally, the
Coast Guard is developing a system for the Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC), which, according to the
proposed rulemaking on the MMC, would eventually combine the license, merchant mariner document,
STCW endorsement and certificate of registry into one document.
Notably, H.R. 1605 would require “a report on altering merchant mariner documents to make them TWIC
and International Labor Organization compliant, including adding a biometric identifier to the card,”
according to the announcement.  While plans for the TWIC card do include a biometric element, there are
no provisions in the final rule to make the TWIC compliant with the International Labor Organization’s
convention on the Seafarers’ Identity Document (ILO C-185).  American Maritime Officers firmly maintains
the position that making the TWIC compliant with ILO C-185 is vital for American mariners. As such, it
would serve as internationally-recognized security identification for U.S. mariners calling at foreign ports,
and would allow mariners to leave and return to a ship through secure areas of port and maritime facilities.
Other provisions of H.R. 1605 highlighted by Rep. LaTourette include:  Remedying the problem of “license
creep” by making all renewals effective on the date that the previous license expires Prohibiting the Coast
Guard from charging a fee for any credential that is not issued within 30 days after the application is
complete Prohibiting the Department of Homeland Security from fingerprinting an individual separately for
both the merchant mariner credential and the TWIC Allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant
a one-year extension on credentials to help the Coast Guard address any backlog created by the process
of consolidating records at the National Maritime Center and  the new requirements for physical
examinations Allowing new mariners on offshore supply vessels and towing vessels to work on a
temporary basis while approval of a mariner credential application is pending, but only after DHS
determines that the worker does not pose a safety and security risk (this provision does not apply to the
Great Lakes region) Requiring a report to: (1) expand a pilot program to help mariners complete
application forms, (2) simplify the application process so that errors occur less frequently, (3) provide
mariners with a notice of status of their applications, and (4) require documentation to be stored in
electronic format Requiring a report on ways to address the projected future shortage in merchant
mariners H.R. 1605 was introduced March 20 and has been referred to the House Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure with two co-sponsors—Congressmen Don Young (R-AK) and Frank
LoBiondo (R-NJ).

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