“At its heart, America is a maritime nation. It is the backbone of our economy and our way of life,” said Lloyd, the head of the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center. “Our mission is to issue credentials to fully qualified mariners to assure a safe, secure, economically efficient and environmentally sound marine transportation system.”
Having competent, qualified people operating vessels, said Lloyd, can help reduce the number of oil spills, collisions, groundings and shipboard accidents.
Under the licensing system, the National Maritime Center enforces the standards that need to be met and monitors the tests that must be taken for a variety of different shipboard jobs, including deck officers, engineers, staff officers, radio officers and pilots. It also provides a list of approved schools and programs that offer courses needed to prepare for the licensing examinations.
Applicants must obtain a passing grade on exams that establish training and competency for sea service requirements and show the requisite experience. They also must show they are medically fit for duty, without any serious occupational risks; and that they do not have a violent criminal history or involvement with substance abuse.
On an average day, Lloyd said the National Maritime Center approves about 250 credentials, receives some 280 new applications, gives the okay to about four new training courses, receives some 1,300 emails, 2,300 website hits and almost 1,100 customer service calls. At the end of March, the center had 2,113 pending applications.
Lloyd said at least 95 percent of the license applications are processed within 30 days. A large majority are handled in under two weeks.
The Coast Guard had come under heavy criticism in years past from the merchant marine community and members of Congress for delays in processing mariner licenses. Reforms were initiated several years ago that included centralizing the licensing expertise and evaluation functions into a single headquarters in West Virginia as opposed to having these functions performed at 17 separate locations that often had different standards and procedures.
Lloyd took command of the center in September 2010, and has continued the reforms that were underway.
He said performance standards and customer service had been lacking, but the system has steadily improved with the centralization of key functions, increased staffing and greater emphasis on improving the medical review process. Lloyd said that incomplete medical applications still remain the largest cause of the delays.