I have written several columns in the past about mariner licensing and the hassles associated with the Coast Guard’s licensing and medical review process.
Up until recently, I was convinced that the process was improving. Unfortunately, I am again frustrated with the licensing process as a result of a recent incident involving a respected colleague and friend.
My friend is 75 years old and a highly experienced, licensed marine professional. Recently, he set about to renew his mariner’s license with the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center. Two months into the process, things took a wrong turn when an NMC employee who was assisting my friend offhandedly asked him why he wanted to renew his license at his age. This response jarred me. It was callous and confirmed my suspicion that the NMC is taking a very hard line when it comes to mariner medical reviews.
The NMC must change its mindset and do everything it can to keep mariners working. In a recent column, I wrote that the NMC is not taking into account the costs of requiring mariners to make multiple doctor visits as part of a medical review process. In fact, during my license renewal last year, I estimated that I had accumulated over $3,500 in related medical expenses, not to mention lost productivity from being away from work.
My 75-year-old friend is a capable and experienced mariner who is now over six months past his license renewal with no end in sight. He has had to deal with months of unreturned calls and numerous requests for more information from his physician. This has cost him time and money, and he has not been permitted to work during the renewal process. He should not be singled out due to age, nor should he be questioned by the NMC about his fitness for work because of his age. Does age unleash the alarm bells at the NMC? Is the NMC preventing qualified mariners from working as a precaution while they put them through the long and costly process of proving themselves fit? I certainly hope not.
The NMC must find a way to keep our mariners working while they are under review.