US Ballast Water Management Update

Ballast water

Published: 29 August 2012

On 23 March 2012 the US Coast Guard published a final rule on ballast water management (BWM) for the control of nonindigenous aquatic nuisance species (ANS) in US waters. The rule became effective on 21 June 2012 but the requirements will be phased in over a period of several years. On 17 August 2012 the Coast Guard published an amendment to its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to clarify the applicability and implementation procedures in the final rule (see below).

The rule applies to US and foreign vessels (other than US military vessels and foreign state-owned vessels used in non-commercial service) that are equipped with ballast tanks and operate in US waters; however, vessels that operate exclusively within one Captain of the Port (COTP) Zone and crude oil tankers engaged in coastwise trade are exempt from the BWM, reporting and recordkeeping requirements although they must comply with general ANS reduction practices. Vessels of 1600 grt or less that do not operate outside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), non-seagoing vessels, and vessels that take on and discharge ballast water exclusively in one COTP zone are also exempt from the BWM requirements.

The final rule does not apply to foreign vessels on innocent passage through the territorial sea of the US unless bound for or departing a US port.

It should be noted that a number of individual US states including New York, Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii have enacted laws addressing ballast water discharges. These laws vary greatly from state to state. Some adopt standards equivalent to the Coast Guard program, while others (notably California and Michigan) impose more stringent standards. Vessel owners and operators should review applicable state law requirements in addition to the Coast Guard regulations.

Vessels subject to the final rule must employ one of the following BWM methods:

  1. use an approved BWM system;
  2. use only water from a US public water system;
  3. perform a complete ballast water exchange in an area 200 nm from shore;
  4. do not discharge ballast water in US waters; or
  5. discharge to an onshore facility or another vessel.

The final rule does not recognize foreign flag administration approvals of alternate BWM systems. Manufacturers of such systems must submit foreign approval data to the US Coast Guard for review and approval. Vessel owners should ensure that only US Coast Guard approved equipment has been installed.

The final rule establishes a ballast water discharge standard that is the same as the IMO 2004 Ballast Water Convention standard and an implementation schedule which matches the IMO timetable. The compliance deadline for new vessels is December 1, 2013. Existing vessels with a ballast water capacity of less than 1500 cubic meters or greater than 5000 cubic meters must be in compliance at their first scheduled drydocking after 1 January 2016. Vessels with a capacity of 1500-5000 cubic meters must be in compliance at their first scheduled drydocking after 1 January 2014.

No later than 1 January 2016 the Coast Guard will publish a practicability review to determine whether a more stringent performance standard can be practicably implemented.

The Coast Guard may grant an extension to the implementation schedule. Extension requests must be made no later than 12 months before the scheduled implementation date. The final rules also permit emergency ballast water discharges based on safety or stability concerns subject to approval by the COTP.

The final rules also establish reporting and recordkeeping requirements. Vessels bound for US ports whose voyage is less than 24 hours must report the required information before departure. If the voyage exceeds 24 hours, vessels must report the required information at least 24 hours before arrival at the port of destination. Separate reporting requirements apply to vessels bound for the Great Lakes or the Hudson River north of the George Washington Bridge.

A civil penalty of up to USD35,000 may be imposed for violation of the regulations. Each day of a continuing violation constitutes a separate violation.

There is an alternative reporting program for vessels operating exclusively in the US EEZ. This program permits shipowners and operators to submit BWM reports in a single batch report on a monthly basis, instead of on a port-to-port, pre-arrival schedule as required under the regulations. Details of the program are available on the link "Ballast Water Management Equivalent Reporting Program".