New Salvage and Marine Firefighting Requirements for Tank Vessels trading to the US


Published: 23 June 2009

Members are reminded that the Coast Guard final rule amending the salvage and marine firefighting regulations for tank vessels carrying group I-IV oils [1] as primary cargo, which was published on 31 December 2008 and became effective as of 12 February 2009,  requires the owners and operators of such vessels to identify the resources necessary to comply with the new requirements and to update and resubmit their vessel response plans (VRPs) to the Coast Guard to address these requirements no later than 1 June 2010.


In February 1993 the Coast Guard issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that required tank vessel owners and operators carrying petroleum oil as primary cargo to identify salvage and marine firefighting resources in their VRPs capable of being deployed within 24 hours of an oil spill from their vessels (the so-called “24 Hour Rule’).  This requirement was the subject of much criticism during the rulemaking process, and recognizing the lack of extensive private salvage and firefighting capability in the United States,  as well as the lack of clear standards for evaluating the capabilities of salvage and marine firefighting companies, the Coast Guard suspended the effective dates for deployment of these resources until 12 February 2009. 

New Requirements

On 31 December 2008 the Coast Guard issued its final rule amending the salvage and marine firefighting requirements for tank vessels carrying oil as primary cargo, which became effective on 12 February 2009.  The requirements apply to vessels carrying group I-IV oils that are required to have a vessel response plan.  Owners and operators of these vessels must identify resource providers with whom they have contracted for specific services such as structural stability assessments, salvage planning,  emergency towing and lightering, and special salvage operations, and must ensure by contract or other approved means that the resource providers are capable of providing the services within the timeframes required by the regulations.   These timeframes are based on the location of the vessel inside or outside the continental United States and commence upon notification of an incident and terminate when the resource reaches a specified geographical point.  All salvage and marine firefighting resource providers must be integrated into the vessel response plans and must coordinate with OSROs and other response resources.   Planholders must provide pre-incident information to the resource provider (including a marine firefighting “pre-fire” plan), and obtain written consent from the provider confirming that the contracted resources are capable of arriving within the specified response times, which must be available to the Coast Guard for inspection.  Planholders must also determine the adequacy of the resource providers in accordance with selection criteria set forth in the regulations, and must conduct exercises to ensure than the plan will function in an emergency.

The rules also require vessels to identify and contract for lightering capability including fenders, transfer hoses and connection equipment, portable pumps and ancillary equipment necessary to offload the vessel’s largest cargo tank within 24 hours of continuous operation.  These resources must be capable of reaching locations in which the vessel operates within 12 hours for inland, nearshore and Great Lakes waters, 18 hours for offshore waters, rivers and canals, and 36 hours for open ocean waters. 
The regulations are codified at 33 C.F.R. Part 155 and are available at:

Conclusions and Recommendations

Although the Coast Guard final rule makes it clear that the response time criteria are planning criteria, not performance standards, there is still considerable room for doubt as to how these criteria will be applied in an actual marine casualty.  There is also concern that the United States still lacks the salvage resources (especially the towing capability) necessary to comply with the new regulations.   Tank vessel owners and operators should therefore carefully review the new requirements in consultation with their Qualified Individual and spill management company and identify the service providers who are best qualified to meet these requirements in sufficient time to meet the 1 June 2010 deadline for updating and resubmitting their VRPs to the Coast Guard.

[1] Group I oil or non-persistent oil is a petroleum-based oil meeting certain distillation criteria.  Group II-V oils are persistent oils and are grouped by specific gravity.