California seeks approval for ballast water fines

US Coast Guard inspects a ballast water sample. Credit: USCG
US Coast Guard inspects a ballast water sample. Credit: USCG

California regulators are looking to close a gap in the state’s ballast water management requirements with a proposal that would fine vessel operators USD27,000 per day for each violation.

The California State Lands Commission (CSLC), which oversees the state’s Marine Invasive Species Program, will decide at a meeting on 9 August whether to adopt the proposal, which also includes procedures by which vessel owners can appeal penalties.

“We already had the authority to enforce the rule, but we didn’t have specific regulations regarding fines, how they would be allocated, and the appeals process, and this lays that out,” Nicole Debroski, assistant chief for the CSLC’s Marine Environmental Protection Division, told IHS IHS Markit.

California is among a handful of states that have regulations separate from federal rules governing ballast water discharges from commercial vessels in the United States. California’s regulation has been on the books since 2006 but is not scheduled to be implemented until 2020, due to a lack of ballast water management system (BWMS) able to operate to the regulation’s standards – which are more strict than federal standards.

Enforcement of the US federal ballast water regime, which went into force between 2014 and 1 January 2016, has had to be delayed for the same reason. The US Coast Guard (USCG) has resorted to issuing extensions that enables vessels to continue using old systems until it can type-approve new equipment, which some anticipate could occur this year.

Ballast water system manufacturers are lining up to be first out of the gate with a USCG type-approved BWMS. Being among the first could provide a manufacturer with a competitive advantage for their equipment, which can cost shipowners several million dollars to purchase and install.

Debroski said she’s closely watching the USCG’s type-approval process, which would have a bearing on vessels operating in California waters.

“While we don’t require treatment systems to be approved for use in California waters, we recognise that any vessels operating in California are operating in federal water as well,” she said.

Paul Thomas, the USCG’s head of prevention policy, has acknowledged the concern and confusion among international shipowners wanting to trade in US waters but do not want to invest in a BWMS that meets International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards but not those of the Coast Guard.

Enforcement of the IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention will occur a year after ratification. World merchant fleet tonnage represented by countries that have signed on to the convention stands at 34.87%, just under the 35% threshold needed to ratify.