USCG guidance on ballast water management

Sarah Carter
Sarah Carter

06 April 2018

United States Coastguard (USCG) has recently issued updated and comprehensive guidance to assist with understanding and ensuring compliance with the requirements of the the U.S. Ballast Water Management Regulations. The USCG Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance (CG-CVC) issued Policy Letter 18-02 on 14 February 2018, providing guidelines for evaluating potential courses of action when a ship bound for a U.S. port has an inoperable ballast water management/treatment system (BWMS/BWTS). These guidelines apply to ships using a USCG approved BWMS or a BWMS accepted by the Coast Guard as an Alternate Management System (AMS). It does not address situations where the inoperable BWMS is the result of an emergency situation caused by weather, casualty, flooding, etc. Each ship has a compliance date as stipulated under 33 CFR 151.2035(b) OR an extended compliance date, as granted by the USCG in response to an extension application. A ship that has passed her compliance date and has an inoperable BWMS may use one of the following BWM methods outlines in 33 CFR 151.2025(a), i.e.
  • Use and discharge ballast water obtained exclusively from a U.S. Public Water System (PWS);
  • Do not discharge ballast water inside 12 nautical miles;
  • Discharge ballast water to a reception facility or to another vessel;
  • Perform complete Ballast Water Exchange (BWE) in an area 200 nautical miles from any shore. If the ship intends to use BWE, it must obtain approval from the District Commander or Captain of the Port (COTP) first.
If the compliance date has not passed, ships fitted with BWMS/BWTS are not required to use their units while in US waters, nor does a failure need to be reported to the USCG. An inoperable BWMS/BWTS must be reported only to the local Captain of the Port (COTP), NOT to the USCG Environmental Standards Division, National Ballast Information Clearinghouse (NBIC) or any other entity. If a ship is calling at multiple US ports in different COTP zones, reports should be made to each COTP via email. When the ports of call are known, contact details for each COTP can be obtained from the Club correspondent or through the local agents. Ships fitted with BWMS/BWTS which are nearing or past their compliance dates are recommend to carry out regular testing of their systems, to ensure they are in proper working order. If any problems are faced during a voyage to the U.S., an open-sea ballast exchange should be carried out as a precaution (in accordance with the ship’s ballast water management plan (BWMP)), to minimize the presence of invasive species in the ballast water. This would be viewed as a positive step when the local COTP weighs options for alternative management. It is also recommended that the contingency measures (including BWMS/BWTS failures) are included in the ship’s BWMP. The Office of the Commandant of the USCG issued Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01-18 on 1 March 2018, providing comprehensive guidance on compliance with the ballast water management regulations under 33 CFR 151, Subparts C and D. The circular is divided into sections covering reporting, recordkeeping and compliance. It also describes the enforcement actions USCG may adopt when a ship violates the compliance requirements. In general, the enforcement actions follow a tiered approach that includes issuing Letters of Warning (LOW), Notices of Violation (NOV), civil penalty actions, Suspension and Revocation (S&R) proceedings, and possibly criminal charges for more egregious violations of U.S. laws or regulations. While this circular covers the vast majority of requirements under the US ballast water management regulations, it does not address requirements under the 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP) that apply to ships discharging ballast in territorial waters (which extend up to 3 miles from the coastal baseline) and is enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since the VGP contains federal as well as state-specific ballast water regulations, it is important to review both in relation to the U.S. region where the ship is calling, and comply with all those that apply. Members with ships trading in US waters are reminded to comply with the U.S. ballast water regulations and ensure efficient verification (reporting, operational and record-keeping) requirements are in place during USCG vessel examinations. Members are also reminded that P&I cover for fines involving non-compliance to ballast water requirements, except for accidental discharges, will be discretionary (similar to MARPOL violations). In such cases, members will be required to satisfy the board that all reasonable steps had been taken to avoid the event giving rise to the fine.