Government shutdown hampers US maritime offices, credentialing

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Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Chief Warrant Officer Richard Greidanus, a marine inspector at Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, inspects the barge Cordova Provider in Whittier, Alaska, in November. Active-duty Coast Guard personnel served without two paychecks during the partial government shutdown while maintaining their stations.

During the 35-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government, a number of key agencies serving the maritime industry were closed or severely understaffed, leading to delays for services and employees working without pay.

The shutdown, the second of the Trump administration and the longest in the nation’s history, occurred as the result of an impasse with Congress over President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a border wall with Mexico. Because there was no appropriations bill or continuing resolution in place, nine departments employing more than 800,000 people were partially or fully shut down.

As the only military branch in the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard was affected more than the other services. However, active-duty members served without two paychecks while maintaining their stations. Civilian staff who manage documentation, such as credentialing merchant mariners, were furloughed.

The Coast Guard continued with missions including patrolling the U.S. coastline and operations in the Persian Gulf and the Caribbean. About 43,000 Coast Guard personnel worked without pay, and another 10,000 Coast Guard employees were furloughed.

Military schools including the Coast Guard Academy lost funding during the shutdown and had to scramble to pay professors. At the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), 86 staff members were furloughed.

With a number of safety-critical missions, some U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) staff were able to stay on the job. Most administrative support staff were furloughed, but some employees who work at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and administer the Ready Reserve Fleet were able to remain at their posts. There were fears that funds would run out to pay Maritime Security Program stipends to retain the 60 vessels under U.S. flag for use in wartime or national emergencies, but the shutdown ended before endangering the program. MarAd furloughed 274 workers out of 814 total, the smallest number of any agency.

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) ceased operations, suspending action on functions such as processing ocean carrier and marine terminal operator agreements, renewals or amendments to service contracts, and applications for certification of financial responsibility for cruise lines leaving U.S. ports.

The National Pollution Fund Center was not able to process or pay claims for pollution damage, even in cases where settlement agreements already had been reached.

Once the shutdown ended on Jan. 25, affected agencies had to catch up on a backlog of work. The Coast Guard began taking over the Environmental Protection Agency’s Vessel General Permit (VGP) program required under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018.

The National Maritime Center reopened to resume merchant mariner credentialing, and Regional Exam Centers reopened nationwide as well. Merchant mariner credentials and medical certifications with national endorsements that expired in December, January or February will remain valid until May 31.

Mariners seeking to operate on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) endorsements that expired on or after Dec. 1 may request continued service dispensations via email at STCWDispensations@uscg.mil.

The National Vessel Documentation Center resumed its mission of handling vessel titles, certifying domestic vessels for coastwise trade and facilitating mortgages for shipowners. During the shutdown, the center accepted paperwork but did not review applications or reduce its existing backlog.

Ocean carriers, terminals, freight forwarders and non-vessel operating common carriers were advised to maintain accurate records of all activities during the shutdown to file with the FMC to bring the agency’s records up to date, officials said.

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