A group of mariners in and around New York Harbor have organized with the goal of alleviating time-consuming licensing and documentation processes.
The group, United Mariner, says the current situation has cost mariners wages and, in some cases, their jobs. United Mariner is currently collecting and investigating instances of delays in documentation procedures.
“Right now we’re just trying to put information together and see what’s happening,” said Capt. Joseph Dady, a 30-year industry veteran. “There are enough guys complaining about the problem.”
The problem, mariners say, involves delays at the 17 Coast Guard Regional Examination Centers, particularly the New York REC. Mariners must routinely renew and update documentation and licenses in order to maintain employment.
“In some cases, guys have lost their jobs because of the delay,” Dady said.
Reasons for the delays include the reduction of RECs nationwide, and the implementation of the new STCW training requirements. Since the early to mid-1990s, the Coast Guard has reduced the number of RECs from 23 to 17. Also, security measures implemented since 9/11 require mariners to travel to RECs personally to prove their identity, in addition to completing STCW requirements. Currently, Coast Guard officials say, RECs have a backlog of about 5,000 documents and licenses nationwide.
“And New York historically is one of our busiest offices,” said Jolie Shifflet, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard. “Between January and February (of 2004), the number of applications in New York doubled.”
According to the United Mariner Web site, (www.geocities.com/unitedmariner/), the reasons for the delays are many.
“This problem continues to worsen while going uncorrected,” the Web site states. “Budget, understaffed office personnel, new procedures and the burden placed on the USCG by new security issues are some causes to mention.”
Coast Guard officials said they have taken steps to correct the problem. For instance, the number of employees at RECs has increased by 30 percent in the last two years.
“We’re hiring contractors and trying to alleviate immediate needs we have with the implementation of STCW,” Shifflet said. “We certainly understand the importance of mariners getting their licenses in a timely manner, and we are looking at better ways to structure the whole licensing process. But that’s still in development.”
Mariners say the problem must be corrected soon.
Dady said many licenses and documents that previously took three or four days to renew, now take five or six months in some cases.
United Mariner officials are collecting information on the delays, documenting them, and trying to determine what reasonable waiting times should be.
The Web site memo stated that the group would take the information to the Department of Transportation and if the Coast Guard or Congress offers no remedy they would consider legal options and possibly a class action lawsuit.
“We want to let them know what our beef is,” Dady said. “We must find a way to expedite and streamline the process.” —Matt Gresham