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Archive for the ‘USCG National Marine Center’ Category

The National Maritime Center in West Virginia has finally gotten itself to the point where it has some breathing room.  Enough room to issue the latest news item regarding “Legacy Documents”.  You know what they are, that’s how the NMC refers to our traditional licenses, “legacy documents”.  When the new MMC was instituted the great din that rose up lamenting the loss of our “license” for a little red passport book was deafening, but it seems someone was listening, albeit not very closely…..

The NMC sent out a note today informing the masses that the license we all earned will once again be available for free.  Well free is good, yes?  Um yeah, except it’s not a license it’s just a facsimile of one.  It doesn’t count as a valid certificate, it is for framing and hanging in your den.  It’s not for the pilothouse license board.

Issue #7

Some noteworthy things are missing.  There is no “issue” number.  The fancy wording we all grew to love will not be included for practicality’s sake.  It will be one page that will include all of your ratings and endorsements.  I wonder how the guys with a bazillion miles of pilotage are going to make out?

It’s a step in the right direction, even if it’s just baby steps.  I am thankful we’re making any progress at all.

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In a previous post I pondered my renewal process and promised an update.  To recap, starting in January I submitted my documents and hoped for the best knowing the NMC was just in its rookie year.  The time frame I anticipated was about 4 to 5 months.  I was starting well before my license was to expire and I didn’t believe I had any issues that might slow the process.   All my paperwork was accepted through the Boston REC and after some wrangling over semantics (the new “dateless” radar endorsement) I had a completed set of renewal documents on their way to West Virginia.  The NMC had my package by February 18th.

As the weeks dragged by I noted little progress.  While the paperwork was definitely in West Virginia, its status had remained a mystery…..the MEB thing was taking too long.  On March 10th I was checking the NMC site for progress when I noted the good folks at MEB needed more info.   I called to try and get some detail and was eventually able to discern that a procedure I had 4 years prior (and reported on my annual 719k) was creating a problem.  Luckily the supervisor on watch sent me an email detailing exactly what was needed rather than make me wait for the snail mail.  I was able to schedule most of the appointments prior to returning to work.  The snail mail notice didn’t arrive for 7 more days. After a couple of weeks of work and  a battery of tests at my doctor’s office, I submitted 15 pages of documents to the good people of MEB.  Luckily they were true to their word that I would be moved along to the top of the pile now that they had the necessary info.  It was now April 4th.

After progressing to the next level I was informed that PQEB could take a couple of weeks before they even looked at my folder, it was then I began to  sweat.  Once I cleared MEB I thought I was home free, but facing this new information and a delay that was encroaching on my expiration date I asked for special consideration by sending an email to the staff supervisor at NMC requesting (politely) that my situation be given special dispensation.  (I wouldn’t have known to ask  if an operator at the NMC had not suggested the option was available.)  To my surprise, special dispensation is exactly what I got.  My paperwork was accelerated through the maze and I received my new license, MMD, and STCW in the mail in short order.  I was printed and issued on April 15th.  The whole thing took a mere 86 days from the day I sent my package to my License Consultant.

Now as if that wasn’t enough, the regulations regarding the VSO endorsement came into the picture.  My outfit wanted all of  its Masters so endorsed.  This endorsement is only required if you are the designated security officer on a vessel over 200 gross tons that sails past the Demarcation line.  Your MMC needed to carry the USCG endorsement and it needed to be done by July 1st, 2009.(this deadline has since been extended due to the high volume of mariners submitting  for the endorsement)

I sat through a 3 day CSO,VSO, FSO course at Kings Point MMA and submitted my paperwork yet again.  My license consultant doesn’t handle STCW endorsements, so I spoke with the NMC which directed me to send my stuff to the center and that I would have my endorsement in due course.  Of course this information was completely wrong.  I found out after 4 days that I needed to reclaim my paperwork and submit it via my REC of choice, REC Boston did my stuff before, so Boston it is.  After speaking with Boston and confirming my requirements for submitting (turns out I’ll be issued the new MMC for no charge) I sent my documents to Boston. After being approved at my favorite REC, it was on to West Virginia and within 3 weeks my new MMC was in hand.

That would be a great ending but nooo……..since I was at work when my new MMC arrived, I wasn’t able to read it to be sure it included all that it should.  Well, there you go…..

The Master’s ticket I sat for in 1984 was no longer included in my “credential” even though it is prominently listed on my recently issued “legacy document”.  Jeez, now I called the NMC and asked why it was omitted from my license and was promptly handed off like a hot potato.  I would have to speak with a supervisor, gee d’ya think? BUT, the supervisors have all gone home for the day, call back tomorrow.

Today (July 18th) I call the center and speak with said supervisor who agrees I have been shortchanged and now will send a note to my evaluator so they can dig my files out of the archives.   I was told there is only one guy at the NMC that handles these kind of errors…….I’ll let that one sink in.  One guy.

Anyway, I sat down after that call expecting another week or two of wrangling the system to get what I needed.  Later that day I made a followup call on the off chance that I would catch someone “in the know” before they headed for the coffee machine, but it was “no joy”.  I had all but accepted my fate.

Then the damnedest thing happened, my original evaluator called me and after apologizing for the omission promised to send out an endorsement sticker for the MMC to make everything right.  Her explanation for omitting the endorsement was credible, she didn’t want to mess up my pilotage and in focusing so very hard on that, my Inland Master’s AGT endorsement was overlooked.

Okay, so now I’ll carry a slightly disorganized MMC for the next five years. When the endorsement sticker shows up and if I don’t mess it up sticking it, I won’t have to deal with the NMC again until early 2014….right?  I’m pretty sure I could push the issue and demand a new and correct MMC, but by doing that even I would think I was just busting balls.

So, in a nutshell here’s the smart thing to do.

Start early, 6 months is the least amount of time I would suggest you allow.

Check your status frequently on the NMC website, have your mariner’s number handy.

Know your options; you can get things expedited if you write (email) and ask (politely).  You’ll get the consideration if they can give it.  I was fast approaching my expiration and unemployment, I asked and was moved along.  All my issues were already settled so it was just that I was at the bottom of the PQEB pile, and that pile was 2-3 weeks deep.

Don’t freak out because its taking so long.  It doesn’t speed things or people up, it just makes you and everyone else miserable.

Don’t hesitate to write an email, ask for a supervisor and demand an explanation from the NMC, just do it politely.  These folks have enough of us to deal with and I found that if I was quietly persistent, I got listened to.  Almost every person I dealt with by phone in the REC Boston and the folks in West Virginia did as good a job for me as the circumstances allowed.  I don’t doubt there are some huge hurdles facing the working stiffs down there in Martinsburg, I can only hope the command structure is taking care to retain the talent and not abuse the folks that are trying to do a good job.  I spoke with enough of them to believe they want to make us happy.

In 4 years I hope to be able to renew online from the comfort of my kitchen table and have it take nary a week to clear and receive my new license.  And of course, my next letter to Santa will ask for just that…….

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Follow this link to the gCaptain Forums; this series of posts was submitted by a former contract evaluator at the NMC and makes interesting if discouraging reading.  The information has been addressed by many well respected voices on the gCaptain Forum and by many that are suffering through the excruciatingly slow renewal/application process that is the N.M.C.

Hearings will be held this July 9th  before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, and Mr. Elijah Cummings will be in attendance.  The committee should pay heed to all the comments but give a particularly critical listen to Captain Richard Block’s comments and concerns as he champions  the working mariner.

I have a deep desire to see Captain Richard Block succeed in conveying the necessary urgency to Congress on the 9th and see some real progress.  It just seems that with all he is suggesting, there wouldn’t appear to be a glimmer of hope that anything concrete will be accomplished for years…..the pile of sh…. er, EGO that needs to be navigated has run lesser men aground, good luck Capt. Block.

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The new format

license12

The final rule for the consolidation of the MMC (Merchant Marine Credential) has been published and caused a great uproar from mariners across the country including license holders within the ranks of the USCG.  The subsequent comment period was ignored by the rule-makers when it came to the actual license itself.  The issue that is contested, almost to a man, concerns the proper format of the “traditional” license.  The new M.M.C. abandons the old style license in favor of a passport style booklet.  It’s understandable that the need for consolidation can and should be accommodated but the traditional license should have never been left out of the mix.  It was apparent during and after the issue was proposed that the MMC was going to happen, the surprise for the Coast Guard came when the unholy din arose surrounding the diploma style license we all know and respect.   After the final rule was published, Capt Joel Milton ran an article on his blog displaying a response from a Mr. Jeffrey Lantz who was apparently caught in the crosshairs and forced to give an explanation of our feckless Coast Guard’s behavior and failure to address this issue as part of the final rule, and he sounded surprised that there was an uproar.

I won’t go into the entire letter, I’ll just take this opportunity to “cherry pick” a gem from within said response.  In their haste to accomplish their main goal of reducing the number of documents we need to carry,(by the way, thanks for that) and the numerous appearances said documents require, the Coast Guard demonstrated an incredible lack of concern regarding the document we all recognize as our ticket.  When it comes to the Office of Marine Inspection the USCG may spout tradition and honor as a mantra, but it certainly falls by the wayside in a hurry when it suits their needs.  And as I read Mr. Lantz’s letter, it seems it’s being denigrated as quaintly sentimental and a hokey kind of traditional.  What a pair!

The issue of maintaining a proper diploma style license was supported by every mariner asked, not a few but all.

MERPAC was generous and accommodated the issue of the new MMC but also recommended the traditional license be offered as an optional issue.  I submit the license is more important as a badge of honor than a credential.  By the way, how does one post the new passport style booklet?

I noted a patently ridiculous statement in the response from Mr. Lantz, specifically;There are numerous factors to consider in deciding whether or not to also provide a “suitable for framing copy of the license.” These include the availability of Coast Guard resources, including personnel, paper stock, hardware, software and equipment, and the process for determining and collecting fees.”

Is he kidding me? One piece of paper?  Doesn’t that infrastructure already exist? Is it too much of a reach to tack a fee on the application to include the “traditional framing copy” and process it along with everything else. What issue would any of us have with a note on the document stating it is “for display only”.   How many lawyers do you need to consult regarding those three words?

The next time you walk into your doctor’s office, take note of how many diplomas he  or she has on the wall.  Does it inspire confidence to see proof out in the open that your practitioner is well qualified to handle your situation, or would you rather ask to see some ID just as you’re disrobing for an examination?  C’mon Doc, let’s get out the wallet.

The time it would take to send the data to a printer and the ink it would require wouldn’t amount to 2 minutes or cost more than a dime. The paper adds a quarter, and the personnel time load would be an additional 10 seconds to enter the check mark and push enter. Paper, equipment, personnel? I’m sure there will be about 200,000 license blanks going to a landfill if these folks don’t come to their senses.  Talk about a waste.  Hey, think green!

Enough with the bullshit already….charge another $5.00 and issue the license we all want.  If we have to cough up a couple of bucks it’ll be worth it to you to keep us quiet and you’ll have pin money for the next budget shortfall.

Don’t thank me now, but feel free to drop me a line if you need any more help.

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In the past like many of us, I sat for the radar renewal and submitted the certificate with my application and would have been out-of-sync.  In that case, when renewal  time approached, I would have expected to renew radar first and then submit my renewal package as I always did.

But, when I upgraded my present license in the middle of my radar endorsement’s term I was granted the one time 2 year extension which had me syncing my radar with my new license’s expiration date. They expire on the same day.

Now, I don’t wish to beat the subject to death, but this pissing match between the REC’s and the Maritime Center is getting ridiculous. In trying to get a definitive answer to the endorsement question for myself and others, and all I’ve come up against is contradictory information left and right.

This is an excerpt from my note to the National Maritime Center;

“Please clarify the policy that is in effect regarding radar endorsements being printed on the license. The final rule published in September of 2008 was clear there would no longer be a radar endorsement printed on the license. What has changed and why? This has put me in the position of possibly delaying the processing of my credentials since I can’t sit for the radar renewal until March 6th 2009, I hold a current endorsement that expires at the end of my present license’s term in late May of this year. I started my renewal process on Jan. 15th, my fingerprints have been received by the REC Boston and I thought my file had been sent to The Maritime Center. Has there been a change made in the published rule? When was the change made? Will this be a problem for my renewal time frame?”

The Maritime Center’s response; (almost verbatim from the final rule)

“The expiration date for the radar-observer endorsement may be different from the expiration date of the license itself, causing confusion as to the validity of the license. A license is valid for a five-year period from the date it is issued by the Coast Guard. A radar-observer endorsement is also valid for five years, but that period begins after the month in which the certificate of training is issued.

Mariners will still be required to keep their radar-observer training current, but the expiration date will not appear on the license. You will still be required to hold current radar training certificates to man vessels equipped with radar, as specified in 46 CFR 15.815, and will have up to 48 hours to produce a copy of your certificate upon request of the Coast Guard.

To answer your questions regarding whether you need to provide a current radar certification; the answer is no. Since you applied for your renewal before your expiration and the radar endorsement is current they will not request the radar re-certification. If your radar endorsement was already expired at the time you submitted your application you would be required to submit the radar re-certification.”

I don’t think it can be much clearer, but that just makes too much sense. If you’re coming up against the same issue I am, it would be to your benefit to get the facts straight regarding your status well before you’ll need to submit your renewal application.

Allowing local REC’s the latitude to assist the new Maritime Center is a good idea, when they start disseminating contrary and confusing policy statements in direct opposition to a published final rule, it’s a bad idea.  If so much supervisory talent is available, the REC’s should be sending those folks down to West Virginia to help with the mess, not start the turf battle that puts mariners in the middle.  The Center was supposed to make things better, not worse.  Did these guys miss the memo?

When I’ll be holding my freshly renewed credential is unknown, I can always hope it’ll be soon.

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I am in process right now for renewal of all my credentials.  We are all aware the rule for radar endorsements changed and became final in September of 2008.  What you might not know is that the USCG has decided they will continue radar endorsements sans expiration date if you wish to have the endorsement placed on your license.

I began my renewal process in January with the Sept. 08 rule in mind and held off scheduling a radar renewal until March 09, this will have had the effect of overlapping my valid radar certificate with my new one.  Here’s a note I received from the licensing consultant I’m using to handle my paperwork.

“In a Federal Register dated 9/11/08, the USCG made it very clear that radar observer would no longer be endorsed on licenses. The mariner would need, though, to keep his/her radar observer training current by being able to show the USCG (if someone should ask) a radar renewal course certificate less than 5 years old. I’ve seen no further Federal Register or official policy to the contrary.

But a chance discussion I had a few days ago with the man in charge of REC Boston has revealed some clarification/update. The USCG changed their mind and will indeed endorse “radar observer” on licenses with no expiration of that endorsement mentioned.  So if a license has a current radar observer endorsement to expire after the license expiration date, then the license can be renewed without submitting a radar renewal course certificate at the license renewal submission.

But if a license has a radar observer endorsement that has expired or expires on the same date as the license (like yours), then the radar renewal  course certificate needs to be submitted to the USCG as part of the license renewal application. Very frustrating.”

The man is a master of understatement, don’t you think? I was thinking that I’m going to lose a month of time in my renewal but rather than work up into a good rant, I decided to make a call to The Maritime Center and here is what they told me:

If you wish to have your radar endorsement added to your license, you’ll need to provide a valid certificate to the USCG upon renewal.  It will be endorsed on your ticket without an expiration date.  If you do not wish to carry the endorsement on the ticket, you may carry the radar cert itself and not get the endorsement on your license.

The first instinct I would encourage at this point is to make a phone call to the Maritime Center before you get wound up and ready to kick ass and take names.  I’m glad I didn’t fire off the emails I was composing last night.  It would have had the effect of alienating too many people without a good reason.

The much maligned Center has increased their staff of Medical Review Officers and are in the process of working out the kinks and backlogs.  They willingly admit it’s a learning process.  The one thing they seem to have right is that their phone agents are intelligent and helpful and reasonable.  This is a huge difference from what we are all familiar with and have come to expect.

Make the call.

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