The US follows a different path to IMO on ballast water treatment and has a completely different law-making procedure which many outside the US (and many inside) find difficult to follow. In this webinar, leading experts review the latest developments
In the What we know about changes to ballast water regulations in US waters webinar, the US ballast water treatment scene was described by International Maritime Technology Consultants president Jon Stewart; Lake Carriers’ Association vice president Thomas Rayburn; Law firm Blank Rome partner Jeanne M Grasso; and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental protection specialist/co-team lead VIDA rulemaking Jack Faulk.
Why discuss ballast water regulations in US waters? The reason is clear: in a poll, two-thirds of respondents agreed there were problems with US Coast Guard type-approval.
The ballast water management system (BWMS) type-approval process is winding down, said Mr Stewart. The number of BWMS posting letters of intent to seek US Coast Guard (USCG) type-approval is diminishing and the main activity will be from BWMS manufacturers seeking amendments to already approved systems.
“It is not that the (type-approval) programme is slowing down, it is that most of the work has been done,” said Mr Stewart. On the VIDA draft policy letter, Mr Stewart reported sources had told him this would be available “as soon as possible.”
Mr Stewart noted that the AMS programme was “sunsetting” in that “the clock for type-approval starts from the vessel’s compliance date”, which is five years. It is not the date the AMS was issued, a point that is frequently misunderstood.
Five years passes quickly and operators are faced with the choice of retrofitting a USCG type-approved system – a substantial cost, or scrapping an uneconomically viable vessel. In a poll, 25% had considered scrapping a vessel due to ballast water treatment system requirements. Three-quarters (75%) did not consider this an option.
Mr Stewart also warned the USCG will focus on ballast water during enhanced examinations of foreign-flag vessels.
Mr Rayburn represents the 50 Lakers operated by US owners on the Great Lakes. Under the existing regulations, US and Canadian vessels operating on the Great Lakes are not required to have ballast water management systems that meet a numeric discharge standard. The explanation being that treated discharge water would affect the water quality of the Great Lakes, which provides drinking water for 48M people in the US and Canada.
Mr Rayburn noted that Canada’s decision to adopt IMO regulations was a great concern. “Residual chlorine discharge is limited to 0.1g/L. Ballast water discharge exceeds New York, Pennsylvania and Indiana’s standards five times over. The northern Great Lakes have tannins that will tax any UV-based process. In the lower Great Lakes it is not uncommon to see sediment loads of 400 to 1,000 mg/L, that will severely challenge any filter system,” he said.
Mr Faulk was able to provide an update on the EPA’s regulation of ballast water. The relationship between the EPA and the USCG is sometimes confusing for those outside the US maritime community and often, those inside the community, too.
In a poll, a large majority (82%) found VIDA confusing.
There have been many comments made about the rules proposed in October 2020. Mr Faulk said the EPA was processing the comments. “Once completed, the US Coast Guard will have two years to issue companion regulations, and only after those new US Coast Guard regulations are final, will the EPA standards be enforceable,” he said.
This means the current Vessel General Permit will continue in effect for at least another two years or until USCG regulations are final.
Regarding VIDA, he said Congress left very little flexibility but the viability methods are to be included, depending on the USCG accepting such a method. That the USCG has stated in an earlier policy letter that it did not regard the viability test method as valid has angered and confused many ballast water manufacturers and vessel operators whose ships have systems type-approved by IMO (which uses this test method).
This was borne out in a poll: do you believe science supports using existing viability test methods? 83% agreed versus 17% that felt there was no scientific basis.
In contrast to the Canadian move to integrate IMO’s ballast water standard into the Great Lakes, EPA has proposed extending to meet discharge standards to all Lakers, not just pre-2009. “Based on our analysis, the technologies are not available for that unique class of vessel,” he said.
Ms Grasso has dealt with the legal aspects of ballast water treatment systems in US waters. Regarding compliance extensions, she noted, “The US Coast Guard is being reasonable in granting short-term extensions.”
There is the possibility of an extension if the delay is Covid-19 related. As a maritime lawyer with vast experience, Ms Grasso has seen many technical and compliance issues in US waters. It also works both ways. The fact a vessel has an AMS extension for operation in US waters does not apply if the vessel fails to comply in Rotterdam.
With regards to compliance in US waters, she said, “My strongest message to everyone: contingency planning is critical. There is a USCG policy letter on contingency planning that is required reading,” she said.
She noted that ballast water compliance in US waters requires thorough and demonstrable crew training, clear ship-to-shore communications, well thought out contingency planning, corrective action, and above all, when interacting with the USCG be truthful. Do not escalate a compliance issue into a criminal act.
Do not delay. There is still time to sign up for the rest of Riviera’s Ballast Water Webinar Week and registration ensures access to the presentations and videos.
Sign up here for all our free technical and operational webinars being held throughout 2021.
Left to right: Blank Rome partner Jeanne M Grasso; International Maritime Technology Consultants president Jon Stewart; Lake Carriers’ Association vice president Thomas Rayburn; and US Environmental Protection Agency environmental protection specialist/co-team lead VIDA rulemaking Jack Faulk