The Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center (NMC) has cut its inventory of credential applications in half in the past few months. 

“The numbers are coming down. We’re definitely improving,” said Capt. Jeff Novotny, NMC’s commanding officer. The Coast Guard warned in a June bulletin about the delays attributed to the new STCW and medical certificate requirements, staff shortages, technology problems and last fall’s government shutdown.

The applications backlog peaked at 11,637 in April but fell to 5,765 in July. Net processing time that peaked at 40.1 days in May dropped to 31.35 days in July. 

And while the center usually sees a spring surge in applications, this year’s rush can be traced to 2009 when the NMC centralized its operations and produced a record number of five-year credentials, Novotny said.

Improvements can’t come soon enough for mariners and their employers.

 “We’ve heard from many member companies who’ve been impacted by the delays, and we can safely say that this is an issue that has attracted the attention of the entire AWO membership,” said Caitlyn Stewart, senior manager, regulatory affairs, for the American Waterways Operators. “Even companies whose mariners aren’t currently having any issues recognize the possibility that they could if the system is not functioning at peak efficiency.”

While AWO said it appreciates NMC’s efforts, it’s “still hearing a lot of concerns … about mariners who can’t work because they can’t get their credentials, about how hard it is to get a real person at the NMC on the phone to help answer questions, and about the confusing way that new requirements have been implemented,” Stewart said. AWO planned to meet with NMC officials to try to work things out.

”We’re trying to do what’s best for the mariner and get the highest level credential possible,” Novotny said.

NMC has asked mariners to submit original and renewal applications 90 days in advance of when they’re needed. “With the new regulations allowing us to post-date Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC), an early application is helpful to ensure they have a renewed credential and medical certificate in hand prior to their current MMC expiration,” he said.