The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) brings USCG ballast water treatment regulations in line with IMO and opens the door to a wider range of manufacturers
In October 2018, the US Senate passed the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), which means that organisms that cannot reproduce are considered as being dead for the purposes of the regulation. This paves the way for more UV-based ballast water treatment systems to gain US type-approval, and will harmonise the USCG’s approach with that of IMO. It also simplifies internal US regulations, where there are inconsistent and duplicative vessel discharge regulations from 25 states and two federal agencies.
The biggest practical change is that the USCG type-approval methodology will fall into line with that of IMO. Under the VIDA Bill, the legislative language amends the USCG regulations to allow for the use of reproductive methods for the testing and approval of ballast water management systems by explicitly expanding the definition of “living” to ensure that organisms that can’t reproduce (nonviable) are not considered to be living. In simple terms, the change is that not being able to reproduce is now regarded as the same as dead.
Under the VIDA Bill the USCG is required to develop a draft policy letter detailing reproductive methods based on best available science, and the USCG must consider type-approval testing methodologies that utilise organism grow-out and most probable number (MPN) analysis to determine the number of viable organisms in ballast water that are capable of reproduction.
In the past there have been appeals to the USCG to allow the use of the MPN method of analysis, and the USCG has published on its website the appeal letters submitted by four manufacturers.
One of these manufacturers is Trojan Marinex, whose product manager, Allison Miller, said: “We are very encouraged with the US Senate’s passage of the Bill and look forward to the US House of Representatives’ passage also. The Bill unequivocally requires the USCG to adopt a reproductive method based on best available science. As many know, the rest of the world through the IMO adopted the MPN method as the best available science for a reproductive method in July 2017. We believe this harmonisation is a major step forward for shipowners around the world as it allows for the appropriate and cost-effective use of UV treatment for ballast water management systems.”
The passing of the VIDA Bill is believed to be the result of years of lobbying by interested parties, and one significant part of the victory is contained in the final part of the text, where a key barrier has been removed. The administration is obliged to “take into consideration a testing method that uses organism grow-out and most probable number statistical analysis to determine the concentration of organisms in ballast water that are capable of reproduction; and … shall not take into consideration a testing method that relies on a staining method that measures the concentration of … organisms greater than or equal to 10 micrometres; and … organisms less than or equal to 50 micrometres.”
One of the UV-based ballast water treatment systems that has already achieved USCG type-approval is BIO-SEA B from BIO-UV Group of France, whose business director Xavier Deval welcomed the VIDA Bill, but added a note of caution: “The development could theoretically open the US Coast Guard’s door to the type-approval of systems that would otherwise have failed.”
“The lower performance criteria will certainly increase competition in the marketplace and help towards reducing the energy UV lamps need to treat ballast water in line with the requirement, but shipowners will need to very carefully evaluate system performance and limitations against their vessels’ operational scope,” said Mr Deval.
*This is a shortened version of an analysis of USCG regulations that appears in the 2019 Ballast Water Treatment Technology supplement.