U.S. businesses continue to struggle to find employees. It is particularly acute in the maritime sector. Passenger vessel operators have been forced to eliminate cruises due to employee shortages, while shoreside businesses struggle.

The maritime industry has an additional constraint. Its workers must have licenses and in most cases a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). In normal times, these requirements would just be part of the job. But the industry is experiencing severe delays in license processing at the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center (NMC). Some of this, I’m told, is due to license extensions, granted during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, that are now due for renewal. Some of it is also blamed on staff shortages and virtual work arrangements at the NMC. I understand the challenges the NMC faces, but I am extremely concerned about the problems this creates for mariners and their employers.

An example is my son Ben’s struggle to renew his TWIC. Ben, a licensed master, contacted the TWIC office to schedule his renewal. He was given an appointment three weeks later and was unavailable to stand a watch he had been doing for almost 20 years. To make matters worse, the TWIC office apparently lost his information and another three weeks passed. Ben finally received his TWIC after a two-month delay. How does a mariner continue to work and support his family under these conditions? Are we driving prospective employees to other industries as a result? Mariners deserve a more efficient system.

I am currently trying to renew my license and dealing with some medical issues which may complicate the process. I contacted the Coast Guard to ask some simple medical questions and to help me through this complex process. A subcontractor is handling these matters. While understandable, the subcontractor did not answer phone calls. So, I left a voice mail as instructed. The subcontractor’s recorded message said that I would receive a response from them within seven days. Is this acceptable? If I told my customers that I would return their calls within seven days, my company would be out of business. I have spoken with several mariners from across the U.S. who have had similar problems.

Our mariners deserve better customer service. The Coast Guard and the NMC must deal with this problem immediately. It is seriously affecting the lives of U.S. mariners while also compromising our industry’s ability to conduct business.

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or [email protected].