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Streamlined process provides happier ending for third tale of the TWIC

Aug 31, 2018 01:12 PM

It was a cool Sunday evening in March, and my wife and I were enjoying the fire blazing in the wood stove. As she read the latest Alexander McCall Smith novel, I decided that it was a good time to check over my professional paperwork. I brought out my old laptop and pulled up the “Licensing/Documentation Spreadsheet” that I’d set up after seeing how well the idea worked for my friend William, an unlimited second engineer. For each of my professional documents, including my passport, there is a column for the date of issuance, another for the expiration date of the document, and a third one for notes and comments. Looking things over revealed that my merchant mariner credential (MMC) and medical certificate were current, although my notes showed that the STCW approval on my medical certificate would expire on Oct. 19, 2018. Verifying that my passport was good until 2022, I almost shut the laptop without checking my Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card, feeling sure that it didn’t expire for another year. Luckily, I gave it a look and was astonished that the spreadsheet showed my TWIC card was expiring on March 28, 2018. I got up and checked my actual TWIC card to verify the date and found out that, sure enough, it expired in just a few days.

As I watched our blue heeler stretch out on his rug in front of the fire, I sat back and thought to myself, “Another trip to the mainland for a new TWIC card.” Remembering all the hassles I had the first two times around — problems such as scheduling mistakes and fingerprinting machines that didn’t work — I was not looking forward to doing it again. In fact, each time I had been issued my new TWIC card, it took two round trips all the way to the Georgetown area of south Seattle — three hours each way, slogging through construction zones and heavy traffic — and that’s not counting the pricey ferry toll just to get off and on the island. Putting my laptop away at the end of the evening, I found myself hoping that this time things would be different.

The next morning I went to the Transportation Security Administration website, www.tsa.gov, to make an appointment to get a new card. On the TWIC page there were different links, including applying for a card online, scheduling an appointment and finding the nearest application center. I chose to make an appointment by calling 1-855-347-8371. After speaking with a representative, I found out the good news was that I was able to schedule my TWIC appointment at a local office in Everett, a full hour closer to my home than where I had gone previously. After making the appointment, I got an email confirming the date and office location, and that I’d have to pay $125.25 to get a new card.

Because I could not use a personal check for payment, the afternoon before my appointment I went to our local post office to get a money order for $125.25. As I made out the money order to MorphoTrust USA, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the idea of a foreign-owned corporation being hired by our government to determine if U.S. citizens are a terrorism risk. The next morning, I hopped in the truck with my passport for identification, the money order for $125.25 and my printed-out appointment sheet, then made my way to the ferry.

The appointment office wasn’t a dedicated TWIC card center like the ones I went to the first two times around; this one was an IdentoGO office that specialized in fingerprinting services. The office conducts scans for the Washington State Patrol, hazmat cards and, of course, TWIC screenings. Walking in right on time for my appointment, just as the doors were being opened after lunch, I was immediately ushered back to a cubicle. A lady who looked like she knew what she was doing sat me down in a chair in front of her desk and began the interview. After taking my money order payment, she checked my passport and driver’s license to verify my ID, then asked me to look at the camera as she snapped my picture. Quickly and efficiently fingerprinting both hands, she asked if I wanted my new TWIC card mailed to me. Never having had that option before, I immediately said yes. After getting a receipt for my payment, I was happily on my way a mere 30 minutes after walking through the doors.

A week later, I got an email saying my new TWIC card had been sent to my home and a few days afterward it arrived, good for another five years until April 2023. Another envelope with my actual card PIN number came in the mail a week after that. At the end of the process, I put my new TWIC card in my professional folder and updated my licensing and documentation spreadsheet, all the time thinking to myself, “The third time’s the charm.”

My TWIC card renewal experience this time around was so much better and easier than the others that there really is no comparison. Having the card mailed to my home was convenient, and overall the process saved me hours and close to $100 compared to previous TWIC card renewal trips. I asked a few friends how their recent TWIC experiences went, and every one confirmed that things are vastly improved from before. An especially good recent development is that there are now TWIC appointment offices throughout the country — even in states such as North Dakota and Montana, hundreds of miles from any port.

It took our government outsourcing the program to a French-owned company, but the process of obtaining a TWIC card has finally become simpler and easier. Nevertheless, I find it incredible that it still takes a spreadsheet to help keep track of all the professional documents required to be carried by U.S. merchant mariners. That’s why I believe the U.S. Coast Guard must continue to streamline the process of obtaining and maintaining our credentials — until they are all good for the same length of time, expire on the same date and are able to be renewed together.

Till next time, I wish you all smooth sailin.’Kelly Sweeney holds a license of master (oceans, any gross tons), and has held a master of towing vessels license (oceans) as well. He sails on a variety of commercial vessels and lives on an island near Seattle. You can contact him at captsweeney@professionalmariner.com.

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