Ballast Water Management—Latest Developments

Jeanne M. Grasso

Much has changed over the past year regarding compliance with the U.S. Coast Guard’s (“USCG”) ballast water management requirements, and the horizon has gotten a bit clearer. There are now 16 ballast water management systems (“BWMS”) with USCG type-approval and 10 more in the pipeline. As such, many companies have kicked their compliance efforts into high gear, yet ballast water management still remains challenging, largely because the United States is not party to the International Maritime Organization’s (“IMO”) Ballast Water Management Convention and regulates ballast water unilaterally under the National Invasive Species Act and the Clean Water Act. And, a new regime is on the horizon, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018, which is discussed further on page 21 of Mainbrace.

Some shipowners have struggled to manage compliance in an efficient and effective way with both IMO and U.S. requirements because the compliance dates and type-approval regimes differ, which sometimes has resulted in the need for compliance date extensions. The USCG’s extension policy has evolved as more type-approved systems become available, and the USCG just recently came out with a new policy via Maritime Commons. This new policy addresses and clarifies what the “next scheduled drydock” means, which triggers the compliance date.

The USCG’s new interpretation sets forth a more practical approach for owners to plan for compliance. In short, it ties the anticipated compliance date to the vessel’s statutory out-of-water survey date under SOLAS rather than triggering a new date as a result of drydock slips, installation of scrubbers, or emergency drydocks, which shortened the time to comply. This new policy is a welcome change that will lead to more certainty as it maintains the vessel’s anticipated compliance date. Also, for those owners who have endeavored to comply, but ran into some challenges getting equipment on time or experienced installation hiccups or emergency drydocks, extensions are still available, but on a much more limited basis than in the past. What is imperative is a good faith, detailed plan to come into compliance, generally within a year.

Finally, to avoid problems in the United States regarding operational issues, it is important to have a contingency plan in place, which is incorporated into each vessel’s ballast water management plan. Initially, an inoperable BWMS should be reported to the USCG Captain of the Port (“COTP”) well in advance of arriving, to allow time to work through the compliance options. In making a decision, the COTP will examine how well you have prepared for operations and what steps you have taken to develop a contingency plan, such as training, maintenance, spares, and efforts to repair. Answers to these questions, as well as the vessel/company’s compliance history, will guide the COTP’s decision in terms of what he/she may allow if a BWMS is inoperable.