A circular and a series of online posts reveal a new US approach to implementing its ballast rules
In March, the US Coast Guard (USCG) issued a revised Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular, NVIC 01-18, that fundamentally changed how it views requests for extensions to compliance dates under its ballast water management requirements. The circular replaced an earlier version issued in 2004. More details can be found in the ‘Regulation’ section of this edition of BWTT.
Some observers have been critical of the 35-page NVIC’s contents. US law firm Blank Rome, for example, published an article in its newsletter Mainbrace in March saying that, although the new NVIC discusses how the USCG will review extension requests, “it falls short of providing an applicant with clear standards for what is required in terms of receiving an extension.”
That article was written by Jeanne Grasso, a partner at the firm, and Sean Pribyl, an associate, who wrote that within 24 hours of the NVIC’s release, the USCG had rejected extension requests, some of which had been pending for months. “Those denials shed light on what the USCG is actually now requiring,” they went on, finding that the requirements “range from impractical to impossible for most shipowners.”
The NVIC was issued on 1 March. On 7 March the USCG issued some clarification on its online Maritime Commons blog, in which it documented the information it wanted before it would consider granting extensions to vessels “that intend to install a BWMS that is expected to receive [USCG] type-approval in the near future.”
It also reminded vessel owners and operators “that there are several acceptable methods for managing ballast water listed in 33 CFR 151.1510 or 151.2025.” Those references relate to the relevant sections of the US Code of Federal Regulations that set out US ballast water management requirements. The USCG told BWTT in a statement that it expects “shipowners and operators to read and become familiar with … 33 CFR Part 151, Subparts C and D if vessels they own or manage trade with the US.”
Asked what support the USCG offers shipowners to comply with ballast management regulations, the USCG pointed to a range of online material, including a series of five articles in November and December 2017 written by its assistant commandant for prevention policy, Rear Admiral John Nadeau. In his first article he acknowledged that there were “challenges associated with managing ballast water,” saying that he was “not surprised to be questioned about ballast water during nearly every discussion I have with the maritime industry.”
EPA expected to publish draft VGP in Q3
A draft version of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Vessel General Permit is expected to be published in Q3 of this year, ahead of its entry into force on 19 December this year. It will replace the current VGP that has been in place since 2013, and which was challenged by environmental groups in court in 2015.
In January this year, a member of the EPA’s Vessel Permit Team, Jack Faulk, told BWTT that “we are considering the 2015 court ruling as part of that drafting process,” but could not then say when the draft would be published. As this issue of BWTT went to press, the EPA had not offered an estimated publication date, but industry sources have suggested that it could be in Q3 this year.
This is later than had originally been promised: in January 2017, the EPA had planned to release a draft during Q3 2017, followed by several weeks of consultations. In an article published online in April this year, Ecochlor chief executive Steve Candito said that the EPA was accepting comments on what revisions should be included in the draft 2018 VGP. “As usual, regulators are late in issuing the draft,” Mr Candito wrote.
USCG releases more details about type-approval requests
A change in the format the US Coast Guard (USCG) uses to list type-approval applications from ballast water management system (BWMS) applications in April revealed that four companies with USCG type-approved systems had applied for further approvals to cover various amendments to their systems.
This marked a change in policy shortly after BWTT queried why one company that this publication knew had applied for a further type-approval was not listed on the USCG’s Maritime Safety Center’s table and was advised that the centre “does not announce requests for changes to an approved system.”
Applications for initial type-approvals are also publicised via the USCG’s Maritime Commons online blog. Its editor, Lt Amy Midgett, told BWTT that its query “certainly contributed to the decision to expand the spreadsheet.” The Maritime Safety Center had also received a handful of requests from manufacturers for the same thing, she added.