11/28/2017: Ballast Water Series Part 2 – The Coast Guard’s focus on compliance

From the desk of Rear Adm. John Nadeau, assistant commandant for prevention policy

The United States enforces ballast water management 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 noncompliance. The penalties for these deficiencies vary based on the circumstances and range from a simple “Letter of Warning” to civil penalties.

The Coast Guard is enforcing compliance. Vessel operators must manage expectations. A number of factors should now be obvious to operators as they work to comply with U.S. ballast water management requirements.

Most vessels are now past their original compliance date as stated in the 2012 regulations. Vessels operating in U.S. waters should follow a ballast water management plan (BWMP) that is specific to the vessel and that identifies how it will comply with the ballast water regulations. Operators should not expect to receive a last minute compliance extension, and they should not expect to discharge untreated ballast water in U.S. waters. Operators should be aware that potential enforcement measures may include operational controls that restrict the 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.

Ballast water exchange and compliance date extensions are being phased out as temporary compliance options. In addition, use of an Alternate Management System (AMS) is a temporary bridging strategy until the system receives Coast Guard type approval, a Coast Guard type approved ballast water management system (BWMS) is installed, or another approved method is available for the vessel, such as taking on water from a U.S. Public Water System or discharging ballast water to a reception facility. Extensions are not a strategy to meet the regulatory requirements and will now only be granted for vessels that can document that compliance is not possible now and a strategy is in place to meet the requirements within a specific timeframe. Extension requests must also document that each of the U.S. type approved systems and other approved methods were evaluated as part of the vessel’s compliance strategy.

At this time, the Coast Guard has type approved six BWMSs. These systems meet the range of requirements that most vessel owners and operators described in their extension requests in the past. We have additional type approval applications under review, and more than 20 manufacturers are conducting type approval testing for their BWMS models. Extensions are no longer necessary for most vessels because operators are now able to select and install a Coast Guard type approved BWMS.

In lieu of installing a treatment system, the following management options are still available to comply with U.S. regulations:

1. Retain ballast water on board while in U.S. waters (within 12 nautical miles),
2. Discharge to a facility onshore or to another vessel for purpose of treatment, or
3. Use only water from a U.S. Public Water System.

U.S regulations are in effect and are distinct from the requirements of the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention. Although the Convention entered into force on September 8, 2017, the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee has agreed that the compliance schedule for some vessels will extend through September 2024. As a result, some crews may be tempted to not use the vessel’s BWMS on a regular basis and only discover problems with it as they enter U.S. waters. I strongly encourage vessels to operate their BWMS regularly to ensure the crew is trained and proficient, and the systems remain operational. This approach is the best way to ensure the BWMS is fully operational when you need it.

An inoperable BWMS will be treated like other pollution prevention equipment that fails or cannot perform its intended function, as designed. Inoperability is a compliance issue. It is not a valid reason to discharge unmanaged ballast to U.S. waters, nor is it grounds for an extension to a vessel’s compliance date. I will provide more information on inoperable equipment in the last blog of this series.

In closing, it is important to recognize that all ballast water discharged in U.S. waters must be managed and reported in compliance with federal regulations. Vessel owners and operators should be aware that the Coast Guard will fully enforce all requirements. I look forward to your feedback, continued dialogue, and support as we push forward to combat the very real threat presented by invasive species in ballast water.

Read the other posts in our new blog series:

12/1/2017: Ballast Water Series Part 5 – Contingency planning for ballast water management
11/30/2017: Ballast Water Series Part 4 – The “plug and play” ballast water management system
11/29/2017: Ballast Water Series Part 3 – Coast Guard BWMS type approval program update
11/28/2017: Ballast Water Series Part 2 – The Coast Guard’s focus on compliance
11/27/2017: New ballast water series from Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for prevention policy

12/5/2017: Summary of Q&A with USCG panelists during BWMTechnology North America

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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