CBP Modifies First Offshore Wind Ruling

Jonathan K. Waldron, Matthew J. Thomas, Jeanne M. Grasso, and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Stakeholders in offshore wind construction projects, including vessel owners and operators, project developers, and equipment manufacturers, should ensure that their plans for offshore wind development take into consideration the implications of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (“CBP”) most recent Jones Act ruling. While a previous ruling issued by CBP in January 2021 changed course by ruling that “pristine sites” were subject to the Coastwise Merchandise Statute (commonly referred to as the Jones Act), CBP has modified this ruling generally in line with past precedent. Nonetheless, CBP’s modification creates some changes for Jones Act compliance in the offshore wind sector.

On January 27, 2021, CBP ignited controversy in its first Jones Act ruling on offshore wind since the passage of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”). The NDAA, through an amendment to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”), clarified that the Jones Act applied to renewable energy projects on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), and stakeholders expected that the same cabotage rules which have applied to mineral energy development projects would equally apply to offshore wind. Nonetheless, in HQ H309186, CBP deviated from decades of precedent by ruling that the lading of “scour protection” materials by a non-coastwise qualified vessel at a U.S. coastwise point (i.e., a port or place in the United States), and unlading of these materials at a pristine site on the OCS, would violate the Jones Act. Reversing course after comments from industry stakeholders, CBP issued a modification, which held that the “Jones Act does not apply to activity occurring at the pristine seabed on the OCS, which has been CBP’s longstanding position on the issue.” HQ H317289 (March 25, 2021). While CBP’s reversal appears to be consistent with “longstanding” precedent on pristine sites, the modification itself raises questions about the applicability of the Jones Act in certain contexts as discussed further below.

BACKGROUND

Decades after extending federal law (including the Jones Act) to the OCS for mineral-related energy development projects, Congress enacted the 2021 NDAA, which included a provision confirming that the Jones Act applies to all offshore energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf, including wind energy. While most offshore wind projects were planned with Jones Act compliance in mind, this has generally been a welcome development for all stakeholders, with the hope that it would bring needed clarity and certainty to renewable energy development projects offshore.

However, CBP’s first shot out of the gate in January missed the mark, although the agency should be lauded for issuing a correction in short order last month. In the initial ruling, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock (“Great Lakes”) proposed to transport and unlade “scour protection” materials (i.e., rocks) to protect wind turbine generator (“WTG”) foundations in conjunction with the construction of the Vineyard Wind Project located on the OCS off the southeast shore of Martha’s Vineyard. Great Lakes proposed unlading the materials at the WTG sites on the OCS in layers and at different phases of the WTG installation process using both coastwise and non-coastwise vessels under various scenarios.

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BIMCO Adopts New Clauses and Contracts

Keith B. Letourneau, Matthew J. Thomas, and Zachary J. Wyatte






New Development

The Baltic and International Maritime Council’s (“BIMCO”) Documentary Committee adopted several new clauses and contracts at its recent meeting held on January 25, 2021. Included were: (1) a new charter sanctions clause, (2) a clause promoting transparency and dialogue between owners and charterers, and (3) tug, barge, and floating hotel contracts. Given the prevalence of U.S. sanctions against myriad governmental and private-party actors worldwide, the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the construction advent of new offshore wind farm structures, each of these clauses and contracts warrant consideration by maritime law practitioners and commercial operators alike.

Sanctions Clause for Container Vessel Time Charter Parties 2021

In recognizing the complexity of international sanctions regimes, coupled with the fact that they consistently change as the number of new restrictions continues to increase, BIMCO issued a sanctions clause for charter parties in the container trade in an effort to assist interested parties in complying with the worldwide sanctions regulations. This new clause was designed as part of an initiative to create a library of sanctions clauses that reflect the individual needs and characteristics of different trades and operations, as well as provide greater understanding of the responsibilities assumed by owners. It is the last step in a triad of sanctions clause updates, which comes more than a year after BIMCO’s revised standard sanctions clauses for time and voyage charters. As the various shipping subsectors possess separate risks associated with different market realities, BIMCO tailored this clause to address the characteristics of the container industry, specifically to address: (1) transactions with a “Sanctioned Party,” and (2) voyages involving a “Sanctioned Cargo.”

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New Legislation to Apply the Jones Act to Offshore Renewables

Jonathan K. WaldronJoan M. Bondareff, and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Jonathan K. WaldronJoan M. BondareffStefanos N. Roulakis





Stakeholders in offshore wind construction projects, including vessel owners and operators, project developers, and equipment manufacturers, should ensure that their plans for offshore wind development comply with the Jones Act. While most stakeholders already assume in their planning that the Jones Act applies, new pending legislation, if enacted, would confirm that the Jones Act does indeed apply to offshore wind construction.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

The House of Representatives passed legislation, H.R. 4447, the Expanding Access to Sustainable Energy Act of 2019, on September 24, 2020, which included a provision from Representatives Garamendi and Lowenthal (“Amendment 33”) to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”) that would confirm the Jones Act applies to all offshore energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), including wind energy. While most projects were planned with Jones Act compliance in mind, this is a welcome development for all stakeholders, as it will bring needed clarity to renewable energy development offshore.

BACKGROUND

The Coastwise Merchandise Statute, commonly known as the Jones Act, has evolved over time. The U.S. cabotage laws date back to the founding of the Republic and were enshrined in their current form in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. These were originally laws that dealt with transportation issues for domestic voyages. However, as time progressed and production of marine resources became feasible, the U.S. Congress passed OCSLA, which extended federal law to installations on the OCS.

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EPA’s Long-Anticipated VIDA Proposed Rule Now Available

Jeanne M. Grasso and Dana S. Merkel

NEW DEVELOPMENT

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) made available its long-anticipated standards for discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels pursuant to the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (“VIDA”) on October 6, 2020. Signed into law on December 4, 2018 as part of the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, VIDA established a new framework for the regulation of discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels in an attempt to bring consistency and certainty to the regulation of discharges from U.S.- and foreign-flag vessels.

The first step in implementing VIDA requires EPA to develop federal performance standards for “marine pollution control devices,” which includes any equipment or management practice (or combination thereof) to manage incidental discharges from vessels. After some delays, EPA posted its notice of proposed rulemaking on October 6, available here, to set standards for 20 types of vessel discharges incidental to normal operations. The program implemented under VIDA will replace EPA’s Vessel General Permit and certain U.S. Coast Guard (“USCG”) regulations for ballast water a few years from now, after the USCG finalizes regulations to implement EPA’s standards, including compliance, monitoring, inspections, and enforcement.

BACKGROUND

VIDA was the culmination of years of discussion, debate, and litigation concerning discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels. Although back in the 1970s EPA initially exempted these discharges from the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permitting program due to the burden of permitting every vessel entering U.S. waters, a federal court ruled in 2006 that EPA must issue permits for vessel discharges. In response, EPA developed the 2008 Vessel General Permit (“VGP”). The 2008 VGP was eventually replaced by the 2013 VGP, which contained some more stringent requirements, such as numeric limits on ballast water discharges, a requirement to use environmentally acceptable lubricants, and new monitoring requirements for ballast water, bilge water, and graywater.

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Electronic Recordkeeping—The Maritime Industry, Including in the United States, Sails Forward

Jeanne M. Grasso and Dana S. Merkel

NEW DEVELOPMENT

Long-awaited amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (“MARPOL”) entered into force on October 1, 2020, which expressly permit the use of electronic record books for certain MARPOL required logs. Although the United States reserved its decision regarding adoption of the amendments when they were approved by the International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) in May 2019, the United States ultimately accepted their adoption in accordance with the tacit acceptance procedure. Nonetheless, it is yet unclear how the amendments will be implemented in the United States or what additional security safeguards the United States may require. Bottom line, this is a significant and welcomed development.

BACKGROUND

Electronic record books have been the subject of much debate and consideration at the IMO and within the United States for a number of years. During MEPC 74 in May 2019, amendments were approved, revising MARPOL Annexes I, II, V, and VI to allow the use of electronic record books approved by the vessels’ Administration for the Oil Record Book (“ORB”), Cargo Record Book, Garbage Record Book, and Annex VI air pollution prevention recordkeeping requirements. In adopting the amendments, the IMO stated the use of electronic record books “should be encouraged as it may have many benefits for the retention of records by companies, crew, and officers.” These amendments entered into force on October 1, 2020, although a number of flag States believed the previous MARPOL language provided them with the discretion to allow the use of electronic record books and had already approved their use on vessels for some years. Even so, the permissibility of using electronic record books to meet MARPOL requirements is now clear.

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Latest Developments on Maritime Legislation in the 116th Congress

Jonathan K. Waldron, Joan M. Bondareff, and Dana S. Merkel

As the 116th Congress begins to slowly come to an end, and Congress leaves town without passing a relief bill during the summer recess, the maritime industry can benefit from several bills that have been added to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”), in particular those on the House side. Following is a synopsis of a few key items to watch for.

NEW DEVELOPMENT

Numerous bills have been added to the NDAA that impact the maritime industry or provide critical COVID-19 relief to the industry. Although each of these bills was proceeding independently, they were recently added to the NDAA, which has passed reliably every year for 56 years, in an effort to move them forward. The maritime industry-related legislation added to the NDAA included:

Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020

The Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 (“CGAA”), which has been in progress for over a year, was attached to the NDAA in full on the House side. The CGAA includes a number of significant authorizations for new cutters and icebreakers, including construction of a new Polar Security Cutter to replace aging icebreakers, acquiring a new National Security Cutter and four Fast Response Cutters, and acquiring a Great Lakes icebreaker. We are monitoring the appropriations bills for FY2021 to determine whether funding is provided for these ongoing and significant procurements.

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Customs and Border Protection Revokes New Ruling Regarding Offshore Wind

Jonathan K. Waldron and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Stakeholders in offshore wind, particularly vessel operators and project managers, should ignore a recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) ruling on offshore wind. While there had been buzz about this ruling, CBP has revoked the ruling based on a misunderstanding of the facts in question in the ruling request. As such, there are no recent rulings related to offshore wind, and stakeholders should continue to examine their Jones Act compliance plans with experienced counsel and seek rulings as needed.

NEW DEVELOPMENT

A recent CBP ruling, HQ H309672 (July 15, 2020) (the “Ruling”), drew the attention of many in the industry since the last ruling relating to offshore wind was issued approximately nine years ago for the Deepwater Wind project in 2011. The Ruling related to wind farm activities occurring in the territorial sea off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. CBP has since published a revocation notice, HQ H312773 (August 3, 2020) (the “Revocation”), which was published on the CBP website on August 12, 2020, retracting the Ruling. CBP’s stated reason for the revocation was the lack of clarity on whether the “activities would occur in the territorial sea or on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”)” and that it would be best to revoke the Ruling “until the coordinates of the installation can be established.”

BACKGROUND

In 2011, CBP issued Blank Rome a ruling on behalf of the Deepwater Wind project that the use of a crane that is aboard a non-coastwise-qualified vessel to load and unload wind turbines in the territorial seas is not prohibited by the Jones Act. No rulings have been issued on an offshore wind project since the 2011 ruling. Since that time, we understand CBP has declined to rule on requests to issue a ruling on the applicability of the Jones Act to offshore wind activities occurring on the OCS and whether a wind farm foundation or other devices attached to the seabed for wind farm purposes would constitute a coastwise point under the Jones Act.

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Navigating the Maritime Regulatory Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maritime stakeholders should examine key guidance documents that have been published by U.S. government agencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of these guidance documents create new opportunities for stakeholders, while others may impact operations in U.S. waters. Regardless of effect, businesses involved in maritime commerce should be aware of these updates and plan accordingly. For example, companies who depend on non-U.S. citizen crews for operations in U.S. waters should be adequately prepared to equip crew with support letters during visa interviews and transit to the United States. And, vessel owners and operators with upcoming ballast water compliance dates should examine whether installation is feasible in this climate and seek extensions to their compliance date if it is not.

EW DEVELOPMENTS

The COVID-19 pandemic and the logistical and operational challenges it has caused have raised a host of questions within the maritime industry. A number of government agencies have sought to clarify expectations and even ease some requirements for the industry. Some of these changes, such as changes to the approach to extending the compliance date for installation of ballast water management systems, were directly intended to benefit the maritime industry. Other updates, such as the U.S. entry restrictions instituted via a Presidential Proclamation, did not target the maritime industry, but the impact was felt by companies that rely on the ability to have crewmembers travel through the United States. Below is a summary of some key guidance documents that are affecting the maritime industry during this pandemic.

ANALYSIS

Visas and Entry Restrictions

On March 14, 2020, a Presidential Proclamation entitled “Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus” (available here) was issued, which included a travel ban for several countries. This Proclamation contained an exception for “any alien traveling as a nonimmigrant pursuant to a C‑1, D, or C-1/D nonimmigrant visa as a crewmember or any alien otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew.” However, there have been significant problems for holders of B-1 visas for offshore work, which stems from differing interpretations from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and the State Department. To date, industry is still experiencing difficulty with some embassies, which apparently are not recognizing that B-1 crew type visas are exempt from the Presidential Proclamation and should be considered mission critical, leading to reluctance on the part of some embassies around the world to issue these visas on an emergency basis. Support letters should be provided to crew seeking appointments and these crew type visas.

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U.S. Supreme Court Issues Safe Berth Warranty Decision

Jeffrey S. Moller

The final decision in the ATHOS I saga has recently been issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, upholding the decision of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to the effect that a plain reading of the language found in the ASBATANKVOY charter form creates a warranty of safety rather than merely a duty of due diligence.

OPERATIVE FACTS

The facts were these: the voyage charterer of the fully laden tanker ATHOS I was also the owner of the refining complex in Paulsboro, New Jersey, which the vessel was approaching when its (single skin) hull was torn open by an anchor that had been lost/abandoned by some unknown vessel. The anchor was lying on the bottom of a federally-maintained anchorage ground through which the ship had to transit on its way to the berth from the federally-maintained ship channel. The anchor, which had not been previously discovered or removed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had evidently laid on the bottom with its flukes down for at least three years, during which time many ships had passed over it without incident. But, at some time prior to the ATHOS’ arrival, the anchor was somehow flipped over so that its flukes could be in position to rake the ATHOS I’s hull and tear open a number of its cargo tanks. ATHOS I’s cargo was Venezuelan heavy crude oil, which the charterer/wharfinger was importing to use in making asphalt. Because the anchorage was maintained by the federal government, the charterer/wharfinger had never expected that the anchorage would have obstructions within it so, although passage through the anchorage en route the berth commonly involved passage through the anchorage, the charterer/wharfinger never took steps on its own to conduct sonar surveys. An estimated 263,000 gallons of Venezuelan crude oil was released into the Delaware River when ATHOS I was punctured, giving rise to enormous (U.S. $180 million+) cleanup and business interruption expenses.

The vessel was the subject of two charter parties. The first was a time charter between the vessel’s owner and a fleet operating entity under which the latter agreed to exercise “due diligence” to ensure that the vessel was only sent to “safe places.” The time charterer then subchartered the vessel under a voyage charter to the operator of the Paulsboro refinery on the ASBATANKVOY form, which contained a “safe berth” or “safe berth” warranty that was not expressly limited to the exercise of due diligence. The owner of the ship was not a direct party to this subcharter. The owner of the ship remained its operator and was therefore the responsible party for the consequences of the oil spill under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The origin of the anchor being unknown, the shipowner sued the charterer/wharfinger for breaches of both the contractual “warranty of safe berth” (Charterer “shall select . . .always safely afloat”) found in the ASBATANKVOY charter party and of the maritime law duty of care to properly maintain its berth and the approach(es) thereto. The United States was a party to the suit both for recovery of funds from the national Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which had made partial reimbursement payments to the innocent ATHOS I and her underwriters, and as the subject of a counterclaim for having failed to properly maintain the anchorage.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection Decision Makes Substantial Changes Affecting the Offshore Industry

Jonathan K. Waldron and Stefanos N. Roulakis

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) issued a significant decision on December 19, 2019, which will substantially alter how certain operations conducted by coastwise and non-coastwise vessels can be conducted offshore in the oil and gas and wind industries. The changes become effective on February 17, 2020. Stakeholders should examine this decision to determine how it will impact their operations.

NEW DEVELOPMENT

On December 19, 2019, CBP issued its decision in the Customs Bulletin entitled “Modification and Revocation of Ruling Letters Relating to CBP’s Application of the Jones Act to the Transportation of Certain Merchandise and Equipment Between Coastwise Points” (the “Notice”). Available here. The Notice clarifies CBP’s position on whether certain items constitute “vessel equipment,” which is not “merchandise” and may be transported by non-coastwise qualified vessels. The Notice also contains a section clarifying that “lifting operations” are not “transportation” within the meaning of the Jones Act. In short, the Notice eliminates previous erroneous decisions that allowed non-coastwise qualified vessels to transport items that should have been considered merchandise and not “vessel equipment” under the Jones Act. The Notice also returns CBP to the position that it held for decades that lifting operations may be conducted by non-coastwise qualified vessels.

BACKGROUND

In January 2017, CBP proposed a notice that would have overturned decades of precedent with regard to offshore operations potentially subject to the Jones Act. This notice, which was published in the CBP Customs Bulletin, proposed the modification of approximately 25 CBP rulings that delineated the difference between “equipment of the vessel,” the transportation of which does not implicate the Jones Act, and “merchandise,” which may only be transported by qualified vessels under the Jones Act. CBP withdrew this notice on May 10, 2017. Since then, regulatory officials engaged stakeholders in dialogue to resolve the issues raised in the notice.

The Notice also addressed issues related to lifting operations. Since at least 1983, CBP has held that a stationary, foreign-flag crane vessel may load and unload cargo as well as construct or dismantle a marine structure in compliance with the Jones Act. In 2012-2013, CBP issued what have become known as the “Koff Rulings” (HQ H225102 (September 24, 2012); HQ H23542 (November 15, 2012); and HQ H242466 (July 3, 2013)), which held that any movement of a vessel, even a short distance, while a topside is suspended from its crane and off its central axis for safety reasons is a violation of the Jones Act because in the Koff Rulings, this movement of the vessel is interpreted by CBP as providing part of the transportation of the topside between two points in the United States.

CBP issued its proposed Notice on October 23, 2019. There were 37 commenters to the Notice. CBP responded to the comments it received and clarified some points, but there were no substantive changes between CBP’s proposal and the Notice itself.

ANALYSIS

Vessel Equipment

Historically, CBP used a “Mission of the Vessel” concept to justify certain installation, repair, and maintenance work subsea. This concept was applied over broadly, which allowed non-coastwise qualified vessel to perform some of these activities that should have been reserved to Jones Act vessels. The Mission of the Vessel concept was revoked by the Notice and replaced with a new “Vessel Equipment” interpretation. Under this interpretation, the scope of vessel equipment includes items, which are “necessary and appropriate for the navigation, operation, or maintenance of a vessel and for the comfort and safety of the persons on board.”

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