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Ballast water exchange and compliance date extensions are being phased out as temporary options for compliance with the US ballast water regulation as shipowners are now able to select and install a US Coast Guard type approved ballast water treatment system.

The US ballast water regulations (33 CFR Part 151) entered into force in June 2012 and are different from the requirements set out in the IMO Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention. While the IMO recently agreed to delay the deadline for some vessels to retrofit ballast water treatment systems, the US Coast Guard (USCG) has chosen to limit the availability of any further extensions of vessels’ compliance dates. With six ballast water management systems (BWMS) currently type approved in the US, and several additional systems under review or undergoing testing at one of the Coast Guard-accepted laboratories, the USCG has stated that “compliance is now possible, and expected”.

In a recent five-part blog series on ballast water management, the USCG focuses extensively on compliance and enforcement of the US ballast water regulations. Part 1 of the blog provides the Coast Guard’s overall perspective on ballast water management. Part 2 discusses the Coast Guard’s shift in focus from regulatory implementation to regulatory compliance while Part 3 provides an update on the US type approval program. Part 4 provides insight on a recommended approach to selecting a ballast water management system (BWMS) and Part 5 discusses contingency planning for inoperable equipment or unavailable management methods.

The USCG’s following guiding principles should be noted:

  • The US enforces BWM compliance as a normal part of a domestic vessel inspection or Port State Control examination. Between 2012 and 2017, the Coast Guard issued nearly 700 vessel deficiencies for ballast-related incidents of non-compliance.
  • Potential enforcement measures may include operational controls that restrict a vessel’s movement or cargo operations, monetary penalties, and a higher priority consideration for future examinations. There is also the potential for prosecution if there is evidence of criminal intent.
  • Vessels operating in US waters should follow a ballast water management plan (BWMP) that is specific to the vessel and that identifies how it will comply with US ballast water regulations.
  • Ballast water exchange and compliance date extensions are being phased out as temporary compliance options as shipowners and operators are now able to select and install a USCG type approved BWMS.
  • Fitting a BWMS to a specific vessel will require a thorough analysis of the vessel’s engineering systems, cargo operations, and trade routes. The complexity and extent of a BWMS’s impact on vessel operations means that a plug-and-play solution is not likely to succeed.
  • An inoperable BWMS will be treated like other pollution prevention equipment that fails or cannot perform its intended function. Inoperability is a compliance issue and is not a valid reason to discharge untreated ballast into US waters, nor is it grounds for granting an extension to a vessel’s compliance date.
  • Planning for compliance requires planning for contingencies. The BWMP should provide contingency measures that are specific to the vessel, its operational profile, and its intended ballast water management method. This includes a description of the alternative measures to be taken if a BWMS is inoperable or the vessel’s intended compliance method is unexpectedly unavailable.

Most vessels trading to US ports will need to install a USCG type approved BWMS eventually and Members and clients are advised to start the preparatory work as soon as possible. As previously recommended, shipowners and operators should work closely with the BWMS manufacturers and proactively engage the vessel’s Flag State, Classification Society, as well as the USCG, when developing the compliance strategy for a vessel as this may prevent delays or lapse in eligibility to trade in US waters, see our alert of 15 March 2017.

Gard has also issued two Member Circulars on BWM, No. 4/2017 in July 2017 and No. 17/2016 in January 2017 respectively, advising Members that liabilities, including fines for inadvertently introducing untreated ballast into the environment, arising from the escape or discharge overboard of untreated ballast through a “faulty” approved system, or other environmental liabilities related to ballast, are capable of cover, subject always to the Rules and any terms and conditions of cover. Cover for other fines relating to a breach of the BWM requirements are only available on a discretionary basis.