Odd general question about Foreign Employment

So this is a really weird, but general question about the nature of US merchant mariners, licensed or otherwise, working in foreign employment. During my time at the Academy I was told by multiple people that US merchant mariners with STCW certified credentials/licenses, can work on foreign flagged and owned vessels. However, how does that actually work? I know for a fact that foreign mariners can work on US vessels, but does the same apply in opposite?

How do you even begin to apply for something like that, and does that mean that our credentials are recognized by the governments of certain nations? Is there a registry for this sort of thing that can be checked out? Does this apply to officers to? Does it only apply to certain countries, like Australia, or Japan?

If anyone could provide some answers to these questions it’d be much appreciated. For reference I’m not looking to be employed in a foreign capacity and I know its not nearly as lucrative or preferable to working in the US, I’m mainly just curious and interested in the possibility.

You can work on any foreign flagged vessel that will hire you. You’ll need a CoC from the flag state under which the vessel is registered. Generally the company will submit the application on your behalf with copies of your US credential and STCW. The CoC is that flag states document saying your home state license (USCG + STCW) is equivalent and acceptable.

Whether or not a foreign company will hire you is a different story. Some nations have restrictions like ours. Even oil patch companies that will hire you on foreign flag vessels may not be able to place you long term on vessels overseas depending on country and sailing position.

Your assumption about pay is just that, an assumption. I made far more sailing foreign flag than US flag, especially overseas with tax credits. But I can’t speak for foreign flag general cargo vessels.


I believe that’s referred to as a CEC.

To be crew on a US flag vessel you’re required to have a USCG MMC, which requires at least being a permanent resident, and 75% of crew must be citizens. I think exceptions are occasionally made when a vessel needs a crew member on super short notice in a foreign port but they have to get off ASAP.

There are other exceptions, including OSVs operating from foreign ports, see 46 CFR 15.720.


Yes, I was just trying to give a general idea, not be 100% thorough. I’ll do better in the future.

Perhaps it depends on the Flag registry but Marshall Islands calls it a Certificate of Competence (COC).

Generally speaking, a CoC (Certificate of Competence) is an original document issued by that flag state whereas a CEC (Certificate of Equivalent Competence) is an endorsement of another countries CoC as equivalent to their own. Looking at Marshall Islands rules it looks like they have CoC for original documents and CoE for endorsing equivalents from other countries.

Ok, I’ve heard it called by both. For my MI one they said for non-MI to apply for an Equivalent Endorsement Certificate using form MI-105 Application for Endorsement of Officer Certificate of Competence…so even they can’t decide!

They are endorsing your original CoC as equivalent, so what they call a Certificate of Equivalence.


CoE is not a general approval to serve on any vessel under a given flag. (MI MAY be different)

In most/many cases only the Owner/Manager can apply for CoE for foreigner serving in licensed positions and only on specific ships.
The CoE is thus valid only for that vessel and a re-application is required to serve on other ships in the register, even in the same company.