Home » Merchant Marine » MARAD: Certifying More Mariners To Serve In Sealift Surge A ‘Top Priority’


MARAD: Certifying More Mariners To Serve In Sealift Surge A ‘Top Priority’

National Defense Reserve Fleet Suisun Bay, Calif. in 2014. US Navy

National Defense Reserve Fleet Suisun Bay, Calif. in 2014. US Navy

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Maritime Administration is working with the Coast Guard to certify sea service veterans as credentialed merchant mariners, in an attempt to address a personnel shortfall that MARAD Administrator Paul Jaenichen called a “top priority.”

This “military to mariner” program is a Coast Guard certification program that takes Coast Guard, Navy and Military Sealift Command veterans with watchstanding experience and helps pave the way for a merchant mariner career.

Given their extensive training and at-sea experience, “you should get credit for the standards and certifications in watchkeeping which the Coast Guard tests you to in order to be able to get your credential,” Jaenichen said today at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2016.
“Now we’re moving in a direction where we could combine the training that you get in the military so that once you are out as a veteran, if you decide not to stay, you have an opportunity to get a merchant mariner credential and be able to help us on the mariner side.”

This expedited credentialing process would be a big boon for MARAD, which says it would be barely able to meet Defense Department surge needs today and may not be able to meet those needs in the near future.

“I would say that the sealift fleet is at a tipping point. The United States’ presence in the maritime domain is currently at the lowest level in our history,” Jaenichen said, noting there are only 79 US-flagged ships participating in international trade – a 25-percent drop from just three years ago. The decline of the U.S. fleet meant a loss of jobs – 2,300 jobs out of a 12,000-job industry, Jaenichen said.

“The Maritime Administration currently estimates that we have barely enough – and I emphasize barely enough – qualified mariners to crew existing fleets of government sealift and also U.S.-flagged commercial sealift vessels to provide both the surge and the sustainment of our armed forces if we go longer than four to six months” in a contingency, he said.
“We will likely not have enough – and I emphasize not have enough – mariners in the very near future if we do not take immediate action to reverse the trend.”

As the fleet shrinks, so too does the shipbuilding and ship repair industry.

“Losing these vital assets will increase our vulnerability to international threats and would take decades and tens of billions of dollars to replicate, recapitalize or rebuild,” Jaenichen said.

In addition to losing qualified personnel and losing industrial capability, the United States loses economic security when it relies on foreign shipping companies instead of its own domestic sealift capability, Jaenichen added. The U.S. moves less than 2 percent of the 1.4 billion tons of goods it imports and exports each year, meaning “most of our commodities that are coming to the United States are carried on foreign vessels with allegiance to other foreign countries.”

Addressing the health of American sealift – and its qualified civilian mariners — “is a top priority for the Maritime Administration and also for our Department of Defense partners,” Jaenichen said.

During the same conference panel, Commandant of the Coast Guard. Adm. Paul Zukunft said his service faced personnel challenges as well. Airlines are hiring in numbers and offering benefits the Coast Guard can’t offer – a permanent home station and more flying hours – enticing experienced pilots to leave the Coast Guard. Facing similar retention problems in other areas of the Coast Guard as well, Zukunft said the service would have to find a way to stimulate its workforce and retain experienced members.

Aside from personnel, Jaenichen said the Maritime Administration was on track to modernize its role in U.S. transportation via its National Maritime Strategy. The document, currently in interagency and interdepartmental review after about two years of work, “will help us modernize our ports, our waterways; incorporate our marine transportation system into the national freight network; ensure the viability and growth of our national fleet to recruit, educate and retain our future maritime workforce; and it will also allow us to embrace technological innovation to ensure the ongoing growth and vitality of the U.S. Merchant Marine,” Jaenichen said.

  • Gill

    It’s a sham that we have come to this. Years of doing nothing. How much money has the US lost letting other countries ship stuff in and out while we get weaker and weaker. I’m not sure where all the issues are, taxes, regulations, etc. but we (the US) need to get our heads out of our a** and start doing something and fast.

  • Former EO Rep

    The “military to mariner program” is leaving out a potential boon to the program. US Army mariners receive intensive training in maritime operations, including watch-standing, piloting with electronic and paper charts, distress communications, marine radar, celestial navigation and care and maintenance of vessel equipment. The simulation capabilities at Fort Eustis, VA – home of US Army maritime fleet training – is some of the best in the world, training US Navy, US Coast Guard and Civilian crews alongside their US Army counterparts. MARAD may want to explore this untapped gold mine, if they are truly interested in expanding their potential mariner pool.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Great idea. Logistics, the key to success of any military endeavor.

    Sounds similar to a program that allows former federal LE agents who carried a firearm on the job to qualify for a Concealed Carry License honored by all the states. Why ignore past experience when qualifying someone for a new, but related, activity?

  • TPF1

    Great initiative! Sure wish the leadership had told us in SWOS (Surface Warfare Officer School) Basic that we should keep a log of such things as watchstanding hours and qualifications just in case we ventured into the civilian maritime industry after our Navy time. Literally thousands of hours of watchstanding and qualifications unrecognized after retiring.

  • Ed L

    Well you think they would have learned after Desert Storm One. We had hundreds of ships in the dead fleet but they were in such really really poor material condidtion that few of them were able to move under there own power. And on some of vessels the systems were so old that retire merchant marine sailors came out of retirement to teach the younger fellows on to operator them. I also wonder the percentage of the merchant sailors on the USNS vessels were former or retired US sailors. Back in the 80’s it was somewhere around 20 to 30 percent. Maybe the law can be change to allow US flag merchants ships to carry cargo between American Ports

    • redgriffin

      The Reserve fleet around the country are getting smaller as those older ships are shipped of the breakers yards due to age and safety issues Suisun Bay near San Francisco will have it’s last ships removed by the end of this year. As for training I also know the Navy has built ship simulators in San Diego to train officers in ship handling and I know that USAID goods must be shipped on US Flagged Vessels only by act of Congress so there is a market for the US Merchant Marine in this world as is shown by the fact that there are 3 State Maritime Academies and a Federal Maritime Academy in this world.

  • Keith Madding

    This has been a characteristic of US mariner employment since WWII, not a new thing. And the shortfall in personnel and ships are the result of administrative and congressional policies at the highest levels. Merchant Marine policies since the Vietnam War have been a complete joke. The Joint Chiefs, about every three – four years, submit policies and reports on the poor state of the Merchant Marine and Congress will not fund anything. The SecNav is a political appointment and will not ask for funding or is uninformed about the basic policy shortfalls. Our European counterparts find a way to fund the Merchant Marine, Shipyards, trade schools, and industry in general, our government sends the trade offshore.
    You may think the issues are not related, the steel industry, shipyards, manufacturing, are all being sent away. I have been sailing for 40 years, currently sailing on a tug in San Francisco – Reagan killed off the merchant marine in the 80s with the end of operating and construction subsidies – that money went toward the big Navy build in the 80’s.
    Jaenichen is either completely ignorant of the history, and he shouldn’t have the job, or full of horse feathers. And I don’t think he’s ignorant.
    The big ‘Oh By the Way’ here … congress ended the merchant marine subsidies as an act of ‘fiscal responsibility’ but the farmers kept their subsidies.

  • Michael Barnaby Rudge Chief En

    I am a retired Chief Engineer, licensed by the US Coast Guard to operate ships of any size and horsepower. My license is still valid, through 2017. Over the decades that I have been a licensed officer the requirements for renewing one’s license have been thoughtlessly changed; from no requirements for renewal other than to be on time for the renewal application submission which worked well), to a discourageing myriade of prerequisites, the worst being “currency of sea time in the past five years etc.” Operating ships as an engineer is not rocket science. The ships have changed little over the decades. If one can read one can return to operations as many qualified men have shown in my experience during the Viet Nam Sealift. The regulatory bodies have shot the industry in the foot and now they are boo hooing. I am not inspired by any pleading to return to the industry for any precieved or real crisis. Cut to the bone the pile of nonessential and excessive manning regulation and I might change my attitude. To expect government bureaucrats to get serious about this is lamentable.

  • Paul Ginnane

    We’ve lost 25% of the US flagged ships in the past four years because of changes to PL-480 cargoes. Fleet expansion is the key to increasing the mariners available in a crisis. That requires a political system willing to create and support programs to increase commercial fleets such as Food Aid and the Export-Import Bank. Simply enforcing military cargo carriage rules would greatly help as well. Sadly the past couple of years the Merchant Marine has been cast off without a lifeline, manpower shortages, closed shipyards and dwindling fleets are the domino effect. If I could influence the direction forward I would consider building common class vessels that are commercially viable, tankers, container ships and car carriers to start. Build a fleet of identical ships in multiple yards to keep the yards at capacity and the shipbuilding skill set current. Achieve economies of scale in production and assist in standardizing replacement parts when needed. Lease these ships at minimal costs to US companies willing to operate them in international trades with the understanding that the ships be returned in a national emergency for surge sealift. The mariners would become knowledgeable in operating the vessels and the whole difficulty of activating the reserve fleet consisting of many classes of ships that have sat idle for years would be eliminated. Entice the international trades by requiring/enforcing such cargoes as PL-480, Shale Gas exports and Ex-Im Bank cargoes go via the common class vessels. Think about how that could help all along the supply chain from steel manufacturing the mariner manning the ship, how many jobs could such an effort create and maintain in the USA? Sadly this came to mind when the 2008 economic meltdown occurred if ever there was a time that such an effort might have been sold to Congress. Of course this would be a big budget agenda but considering MARAD is investing heavily in port improvements which benefits foreign shipping interests to a greater degree over the few US operated lines why not. If you want to maintain a US flagged fleet and mariners we are beyond the point of altering course already.

  • les

    merchant marines

  • les

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