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Acting on a request from industry organizations, the U.S. Coast Guard has decided to let former merchant mariners renew their expired credentials for up to six years after their licenses lapsed, without the need to retake any tests. The temporary policy change is designed to make it easier for mariners who left the industry during COVID to come back and help head off a shortage of skilled seagoing personnel.

“OMSA has long advocated for ending restrictive policies that needlessly prohibit American mariners from returning to the workforce,” said Aaron Smith, President of the Offshore Marine Services Association (OMSA). “We applaud the USCG for extending the grace period for renewing a Coast Guard license renewal period and for providing American mariners with more flexibility to contribute their expertise.”

The Coast Guard's National Maritime Center previously allowed a one-year administrative grace period for personnel who had left the industry to reapply for their MMC without testing. However, the Coast Guard has determined that this timeframe is not long enough to address the manpower shortage in the industry, which has been "profoundly affected" by the pandemic. COVID-19 prompted many mariners to leave the industry in order to minimize their risk of catching the disease, or (conversely) to avoid taking a company-mandated vaccine. 

The U.S. faces a serious shortage of mariners who are qualified to man the defense sealift fleet in time of national emergency. The fleet was about 2,000 qualified officers and crewmembers short of requirement in 2017, seven years ago, and the situation has not improved.
"In addition to facilitating the entry of new individuals, there is a need to allow mariners whose credentials have lapsed and induce them to reenter the maritime industry," explained the National Maritime Center in a bulletin. 

OMSA says that the change will save former master mariners up to $43,000 in class fees and up to 124 days of classroom instruction if they want to return to the industry. Going forward, it will help the maritime workforce adapt to the cyclical nature of the industry; credentialed mariners can now leave the sea for up to six years without paying to keep up their MMC, then return again when there is a hiring boom, OMSA said. 

“There is no practical reason for short MMC renewal limits as they do not enhance safety or retention,” says Smith. “Extending these limits will more effectively facilitate maintaining an experienced and qualified workforce and enhance national security by providing an additional source of fully qualified American mariners to be rapidly activated.

Source: maritime-executive.com

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