3/7/2019: Investigation leads to mariner conviction and prompts Coast Guard data quality improvements

Submitted by Lt. Mathew Schirle, Suspension & Revocation National Center of Expertise

The investigating officer (IO) on duty for Coast Guard Sector New Orleans responded to the report of a collision between two towing vessels on the Lower Mississippi River, May 16, 2017. The subsequent investigation revealed that an endorsed master assigned to one of the vessels had impersonated another mariner during phone contacts with the sector command center and IO. The mariner had been working under a revoked Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) for years after testing positive for drugs in 2014 and failure to complete the terms of a settlement agreement.

Suspension and revocation settlement agreements for drug-related offenses require the mariner to surrender his or her credential to the Coast Guard unless it has been lost, in which case the mariner submits an affidavit attesting to its loss in place of an actual MMC. In this case, the mariner submitted an affidavit falsely stating that his MMC was destroyed, but he retained the MMC and continued to seek and gain employment until the 2017 collision investigation. Ultimately, the case was referred to the local U.S. Attorney for prosecution, and resulted in the mariner’s conviction under 18 U.S.C. 2197 (Misuse of a Federal Certificate, three counts) and a sentence that included 24 months incarceration.

Although attempts by mariners to operate vessels using invalid MMCs are a rare occurrence, it does happen, and the Coast Guard and the maritime industry have an online MMC verification tool to alert them to the few cases that surface each year. Upon entry of mariner identification details by a marine employer or other party, the MMC verification tool provides immediate information regarding whether the subject mariner has a valid MMC and medical certificate.

This system works effectively when the Coast Guard logs the date on which a mariner’s credentials become invalid, and when prospective employers verify a mariner’s status and report discrepancies to the Coast Guard. For example, another endorsed master was recently convicted after his employer received what appeared to be a valid MMC from him but saw that his MMC was invalid during online verification. The concerned employer reported the matter to the Coast Guard, prompting an investigation that determined the mariner was using a forged copy of an MMC after the National Maritime Center denied his application for renewal.

Following the 2017 case, the Coast Guard scrutinized the online MMC verification tool and discovered that certain database management and technical issues were causing some mariners with revoked credentials or who had been deemed medically unfit for medical certification to appear as having valid documentation in search results. The Coast Guard expeditiously resolved the database and technical issues and has confirmed that the verification tool is being refreshed daily with accurate results for MMCs and medical certificates.

Any discrepancies detected during the online verification process or other concerns regarding Coast Guard-issued mariner credentials and certificates should be reported immediately to your local Coast Guard unit or to the Suspension and Revocation National Center of Expertise at SR-NCOE@uscg.mil or (304) 433-3700.

For more details about the conviction and sentencing in the 2017 case, read the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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