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Shipowners are urged to plan ahead for compliance with the US ballast water regulations and start preparatory work for future installation of US Coast Guard type-approved ballast water management systems as soon as possible.

On 6 March 2017, the US Coast Guard (USCG) issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB 03-17) providing additional guidance to its ballast water management (BWM) extension program. According to the Coast Guard Maritime Commons, this MSIB was issued in response to numerous extension requests and questions received by the Coast Guard which indicate a widespread misunderstanding of the previously issued guidance and an associated need for additional clarity and certainty for all stakeholders. See also our Alert “US ballast water management extension program update” of 24 January 2017.

Notably, the USCG emphasises the need for shipowners to provide sound evidence of whether or not a USCG type-approved BWM system is “available” for the vessel in question before granting an extension. This means that shipowners will have to study the available type-approvals, understand the technical constraints associated with each system, and justify why these systems are not appropriate for a particular vessel. However, while the USCG recognises that “one size does not fit all” as regards BWM systems and that it will take a variety of type-approved systems to meet the needs of the global fleet, it also makes it clear that extensions will not be granted indefinitely.

The Coast Guard Maritime Information Exchange is the official website listing USCG type-approved equipment. However, as of March 2017, copies of certificates for type-approved BWM systems, including appendices, can also be found via the USCG’s ballast water portal.

US ballast water regulations – a recap

The US has not acceded to the IMO BWM Convention but has instead adopted its own ballast water management requirements which are set out in Title 33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 151 Sections 151.1510 and 151.2025. The regulations, which entered into force in June 2012, apply to all non-recreational vessels, both US and foreign, that are equipped with ballast tanks and intend to discharge ballast water into US waters. A vessel’s compliance date is determined by its first scheduled dry-docking after 1 January 2014 or 1 January 2016, depending on the vessel’s ballast water capacity. Upon a vessel’s compliance date, it must use one of the accepted BWM methods listed in the regulations. For most vessels, this means that a USCG authorised ballast water treatment system must be installed and used. See also our Alert of March 2012 for more details.

The BWM extension program

Regulation 33 CFR 151.2036 allows the USCG to grant an extension of a vessel’s compliance date to a shipowner who has documented that, despite all efforts, compliance with one of the accepted BWM methods is not possible. Prior to December 2016, when no USCG type-approved BWM system was available, it was relatively simple for a shipowner to document that this was not possible. As multiple BWM systems have now been type approved, this changes the way the USCG approach these extension requests and the following guiding principles provided in MSIB 03-17 should be noted:

  • A request for an extension should be submitted 12-16 months before the vessel’s compliance date. Requests submitted too late risk being rejected due to time constraints during the review process. Requests submitted too early may have to be revised due to changes in the market or availability of USCG type-approved systems.
  • The request should contain a strategy for compliance, outlining the steps to be taken to bring the particular vessel in compliance with the regulations before the end of the extension. This may require the inclusion of a timeline and installation plan for a USCG type-approved BWM system. Requests that do not provide a justification as to why compliance with one of the accepted BWM methods is not possible by the vessel’s current compliance date will be rejected.
  • If an extension is granted, it will no longer be linked to the vessel’s dry-docking schedule, but will contain an “expiry date” based on the compliance strategy and installation plan provided in the request. Further extensions to those granted after 6 March 2017 should not be anticipated.
  • A vessel with an Alternate Management System (AMS) installed do not qualify for an extension because the vessel is in compliance with the regulations. The AMS can be used for a period of five years after the vessel’s compliance date. New installations of AMSs are still considered by USCG as an acceptable method of complying with the regulations - but only if it has been determined that a USCG type-approved system is not appropriate for the particular vessel.


Most vessels trading on US ports will need to install a USCG type-approved BWM system eventually and Members and clients are advised to start the preparatory work as soon as possible. The USCG recommends shipowners to proactively engage a 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. It may also be necessary for shipowners to work closely with the BWM system manufacturers to ensure that the systems in development meet the needs of their vessels.

For those still in the process of planning the installation of a ballast water treatment systems, key elements of the preparatory work is also highlighted in our Alert “Prepare to manage ballast water“ of 8 December 2016.