Shutdown hampers merchant marine ID process

The Coast Guard has only limited capabilities to process Merchant Mariner Credentials for ship workers during the shutdown.

ID card

The Coast Guard has only limited ability to issue credentials for the maritime industry during the government shutdown. (Stock image)

U.S. merchant mariners could run into challenges obtaining or renewing one of their two government-issued identification documents during the partial government shutdown because the two agencies that process those credentials are split in their abilities to provide them.

While the Transportation Security Administration will continue to accept and process applications for Transportation Worker Identification Cards (TWIC), the Coast Guard said a day later that its National Maritime Center has limited capabilities to process Merchant Mariner Credentials for ship workers. An Oct. 10 Coast Guard notice said the slowdown at the maritime center was a result of the wider government shutdown.

TSA said its enrollment centers are open with normal hours during the shutdown, and all program applications -- including TWIC and Hazardous Materials Endorsement threat assessment -- were being processed. The agency has switched over to a new enrollment services provider and has added a number of enrollment centers across the U.S.

Although the Coast Guard said Oct. 5 it was bringing back 5,778 furloughed civilian employees under a new law requiring uniformed military and support staff to be paid during a partial government shutdown, it said employees at the maritime center wouldn't be part of that recall because the facility doesn't directly support defense-related operations.

The maritime center has nine Coast Guard officers, 16 exempt government civilian employees, and 12 non-appropriations funded employees working, Coast Guard spokesman Capt. Tony Hahn said.

Merchant Mariner Credentials are the professional certification credentials that U.S merchant mariners use to prove their competence to meet the safety requirements of their vessels. While the MMC documents contain identity information, their purpose is to document professional competence, Hahn said. Beginning in 2009, regulations required merchant sailors with Merchant Mariner Credentials to get a TWIC, and a valid TWIC became necessary to validate the MMC.

According to a Coast Guard safety bulletin, the maritime center's regional exam centers, which accept Merchant Mariner Credential applications, would be closed during the shutdown. It will support its customer service call center during limited hours and will maintain its website.

The safety bulletin said sailors most likely to be affected by the closings have credentials that expire between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30. The National Maritime Center extended those expiration dates to Dec. 31 and advised affected sailors to reference its website for instructions on how to print out documents with the extension noted.

It said it would issue new credentials, to sailors set to work on international shipping routes.