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Since September of last year, when the implementation date of the International Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention became clear, all eyes have been focused on the U.S. Type Approval Process. Ship owners and operators have been concerned, in particular, with the differences between the between the U.S. and International Type approval processes and the potential that BWMS meeting the more stringent U.S. requirements may not be available prior to the entry into force of the International BWM Convention in 2017.
In December 2016, the Coast Guard type approved three BWMSs, and we expect to see more systems submitted for type approval early this year. The type approved systems currently available treat ballast water with filtration and either chlorination (EC) or ultraviolet light (UV) to reduce the number of living organisms to less than the regulatory limits. Information on the U.S. type approved systems is available at the Coast Guard “Maritime Commons” blog, Maritime Information Exchange (CGMIX), and Homeport internet portal.
The Coast Guard recognizes that a range of BWM options are necessary for the global fleet to manage ballast water effectively, including a range of BWMS sizes and treatment types. Even as we continue to focus on type approving additional BWMS, vessel owners and operators need to look beyond type approval to the challenges associated with fitting and operating the systems and planning for compliance with U.S. and International standards.
Understand the Type Approval Certificate. BWMS type approvals are not the same as type approvals for more passive and less complex systems, such as life saving or firefighting equipments. BWMS type approvals are highly technical and very complex. System requirements such as flow rates, power level, water temperature and hold time vary greatly, not only between system type (i.e. between UV and EC), but also between systems of the same type produced by different manufacturers. An approved system will be compliant with the discharge standard only if it is operated as specified in the type approval. Most often the type approval will reference the manufactures operating manual for the system. It is incumbent on owner/operators to evaluate the technical specifications of each BWMS to ensure the system they intend to install fits the operating profile of the vessel on which it is intended to be installed.
In order to assist owner/operators with this decision, the Coast Guard lists key system parameters on the U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Approval. Other key parameters such as power consumption, system dimension and space requirements can be found in the system specific operations manuals. I strongly urge vessel owners/operators to work closely with system manufacturers to evaluate potential BWMSs to ensure the system they choose adequately fits their needs and the needs of their fleet.
Understand the new compliance date extension process. There are now type approved systems available and, accordingly, the Coast Guard has transitioned to a post-type approval extension regime. It is important for the vessel owner/operator to understand the new extension request requirements. Previously, it was relatively simple for a vessel owner/operator to document that, despite all efforts, compliance with one of the accepted ballast water management methods, including installation of a Coast Guard type approved BWMS, was not possible. Now that three BWMSs have been type approved, it changes the way we approach these requests. Operators can no longer request an extension simply citing there is no Coast Guard type approved system available. Each extension request requires an explicit statement supported by documentary evidence that one of the accepted methods in the regulations, including installation of a Coast Guard type approved system, is not possible for purposes of compliance with the regulatory implementation schedule.
Other factors that we consider when evaluating an extension request include the lead time required to contract and install a U.S. type approved system, issues related to limited market and manufacturing capabilities, and limited shipyard capacity. The Coast Guard will no longer accept batch applications for extensions; instead, each vessel must be evaluated individually. Lastly, vessels equipped with a foreign type approved BWMS that has been accepted as an Alternate Management System (AMS) will likely not receive an extension because the vessel is already considered to be in compliance. As per our regulations, vessels may use an AMS for up to 5 years past the vessel’s compliance date.
To date, we have received over 13,000 requests for extensions to vessel compliance dates, granted just under 12,000 requests, and recently denied 9 requests. Due to the volume of these requests and time that it takes to review them, it is extremely important for vessel owners/operators to pay close attention to the extension requirements. An extension request must be submitted at least 12 months prior to the vessel’s compliance date, and supplemental requests must be filed 90 days before the termination date specified in the previous extension. Supplemental requests will be granted only for delays caused by unforeseen circumstances or situations beyond the control of the owner or operator.
Plan for compliance. It is imperative that vessel owners/operators review and update vessel Ballast Water Management plans routinely and especially now that type approved systems are available. Ballast water exchange and the use of Coast Guard accepted AMS are being phased out as compliance options. This means that vessel owners/operators must understand the accepted BWM method(s) that will be used, train the crew in proper procedures and use of any BWM equipment, and incorporate ballast water management into the vessel’s Safety Management System. The core of this approach is the BWM plan (BWMP).
A comprehensive plan addresses a broad spectrum of items. Here are some general issues that must be addressed in detail in a ship-specific BWMP.
Ballast water management compliance is being actively enforced in the U.S. Every domestic vessel inspection or Port State Control examination includes an assessment of compliance with the BWM requirements. U.S. Coast Guard inspectors will follow the existing compliance approach where they certify documents and records, crew knowledge, equipment condition and operation, and sample BW discharge for analysis if warranted. Failure to comply with the applicable requirements may result in penalties.
Plan for contingencies. Vessels that have reached their compliance date will not be allowed to discharge unmanaged ballast water into U.S. waters. The ballast water management plan should address what the vessel will do if the intended method of BWM is unexpectedly unavailable (e.g. the BWMS stops operating, a reception facility or PWS is temporarily unavailable, etc). This plan is critical to the safe and efficient operation of the vessel.
This year, the Coast Guard will publish more guidance on the ballast water management program. Specifically, we will continue to clarify details with regard to our compliance program and compliance date extensions. All of the outreach and guidance documents developed will be posted on the Homeport website. I look forward to continued dialogue between the Coast Guard and industry as we work to reduce the threats of ballast-mediated biological invasions in U.S. waters.
RADM Paul F. Thomas
Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy
U.S. Coast Guard
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