California Oil Spill Response Plans for Non-Tank Vessels


Published: 21 July 1999

As members may be aware, as of 1 September 1999 California will require non-tank vessels to prepare and submit an oil spill contingency plan in order to operate in state waters. The final regulations implementing this requirement have not yet been issued, but are expected within the next 2-3 weeks. The final regulations are not expected to differ substantially from proposed regulations issued earlier this year. The draft regulations require owners and operators of non-tank vessels (defined as vessels of over 300 tons or greater which are not designed to carry oil as cargo) to prepare contingency plans identifying, among other things, a qualified individual, spill management personnel and the equipment and services necessary to comply with specific response actions in the event of an oil spill in state waters. Other requirements include notification procedures, planning, drills and exercises. Non-tank vessel owners and operators can meet these requirements by preparing an individual non-tank vessel or fleet plan, or by contracting with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA), a San Francisco-based non-profit maritime trade association. The fee for enrolling in PMSA is expected to be approximately US$175 per vessel for each port call in California. The fee will cover (1) a statewide oil spill contingency plan which may be cited by vessel owners and operators (vessel specific information must be furnished to PMSA using a standard form); (2) spill management team services of ERST/O'Briens, a California affiliate of O'Brien's Oil Pollution Services, a large and highly experienced oil spill response management company; (3) access to the following spill response organizations: Clean Bay Coop (San Francisco area); Clean Seas Coop (Santa Barbara area); Clean Coastal Waters Coop (Long Beach/San Diego area); and Foss Environmental (San Diego, Long Beach and Alameda areas); and (4) participation in required drills and exercises.

Skuld has carefully considered the California requirements in light of the significant problems which have arisen in respect of spills from dry cargo vessels in the United States. Such vessels are not required by federal law to have vessel response plans or spill management and response organizations. As was demonstrated by several recent dramatic incidents, the cost of response to such spills has been grossly disproportionate to the amount of oil discharged and to the actual threat to property and the environment. It has become increasingly clear that pre-arranged response resources similar to those now required of tankers under the US Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA-90), are advisable to control the cost of cleanup of spills from non-tank vessels, wherever they may occur in the US.

While Skuld believes membership in PMSA will be a satisfactory means of satisfying the California requirements, it does not address the problem of nationwide response. To meet these concerns, Skuld has decided to enter into agreements with O'Brien's Oil Pollution Services (O'Briens) and the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) to provide spill management and response services for all non-tank vessels entered in the Association. MSRC's resources are available through Skuld's contract with the Marine Preservation Association (MPA), a non-profit corporation providing funds to pay for personnel and equipment needed to respond to a pollution incident. These services are available for oil spills occurring anywhere in the United States.

Under these arrangements, owners and operators of non-tank vessels entered with Skuld may enroll their vessels at no cost with O'Brien's for qualified individual and spill management services anywhere in the United States and Canada and with MSRC for oil spill response services anywhere in the United States. Members may also arrange with O'Brien's for the preparation of California state response plans at no cost and may cite MSRC in the plans as their designated response organization to fulfil California state requirements. In the event of a spill, the fees and expenses of these organizations will be treated as a claim under the Club's Rules Regarding Oil Pollution Cover. Special services, such as drills and exercises, will remain for the members' own account.

Members who wish to utilize these services should complete and sign the pre-approved Skuld Member Contract for Qualified Individual and Spill Response Management for Vessels other than Oil Tankers, which may be obtained from O'Brien's Oil Pollution Services, Inc., 645 Codifer Street, Slidell, Louisiana 70458-4094 (fax: (1) 504-781-0580; tel. (1) 504-781-0804). Members should be prepared to identify the name, flag, and IMO number of the vessels they wish to have covered and to sign a letter designating O'Briens as their response manager. Cleanup coverage by MSRC is available automatically through the Club's contract with MPA and does not require any action by members.

Skuld wishes to emphasize that these arrangements are not mandatory; however, non-tank vessel members trading in or to the USA, who do not wish to use these services, or who have made alternative arrangements with other spill managers and response contractors, are requested to advise Skuld in writing.

It is also important to emphasize that all arrangements with oil spill response contractors in California are contingent on approval by the California state authorities after final response plan regulations are issued. A Circular to Members containing updated information and additional recommendations will be issued when the final regulations are published.

California Certificates of Financial Responsibility

As of 1 September 1999 California will also require non-tank vessels to furnish evidence of financial responsibility in the amount of $300 million for damage arising from an oil spill in state waters. Final regulations implementing this requirement are expected shortly.

Under the proposed regulations members will be able to meet the requirements by submitting a copy of their Certificate of Entry to the California Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). The California Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR) number must also be included in the front of the non-tank vessel response plan or indexed separately in a subsection of the plan.

The Club has been advised that OSPR will provide guidance on coordinating the financial responsibility and response plan requirements so as to facilitate compliance by the September 1st deadline. The Club is monitoring the situation carefully and will provide a further update when final regulations are published.

Additional Response Resources

Members will recall from our Circular of 29 April 1998 that Skuld has retained Capt. William Monson of WAM, Inc. to provide technical advice and assistance in the event of an oil or hazardous material pollution incident in the United States. In cooperation with Skuld's general correspondents, Anchor Marine Claims Services, Captain Monson will continue to oversee spill management and response operations on behalf of Skuld and its members.