US raises hurdles for ballast water extensions

New extensions for US ballast water compliance may require written documentation from equipment makers. Credit: USCG
New extensions for US ballast water compliance may require written documentation from equipment makers. Credit: USCG

The availability of a US-type approved ballast water management system (BWMS) means vessel operators must be more diligent in proving that they’re still unable to comply with US ballast water regulations.

After years of overseeing rigorous testing protocols, the US Coast Guard (USCG) on 2 December issued its first BWMS type-approval to Optimarin, a Norwegian equipment manufacturer.

As reported by IHS IHS Markit, the USCG made public in November its intention to issue new protocols for shipowners seeking more time to comply with US ballast water regulations, which went into effect in June 2012, once the agency type-approved its first BWMS.

With that system now available, “any owner [or] operator requesting an extension must provide the Coast Guard with an explicit statement supported by documentary evidence [a delay in commercial availability, for example] that installation of the type approved system is not possible for purposes of compliance with the regulatory implementation schedule,” the US Coast Guard stated in its 2 December bulletin.

“While this is a significant milestone, it is the first of multiple system approvals that are needed to mitigate the threat of harmful aquatic invasive species,” commented Paul Thomas, the USCG’s assistant commandant for prevention policy.

“One size does not fit all, so we will continue to evaluate other systems submitted by multiple manufacturers with the intent to provide options that meet shipping’s varying needs,” he said. The Coast Guard is currently reviewing applications by ballast water manufacturers Alfa Laval and Oceansaver for type-approval certification.

US and international ballast water regulations aim to prevent invasive species from moving into a region through a ship’s ballast water. While there are five ways that shipowners trading in the United States can manage ballast water, only two are considered practical by large commercial carriers: using a US-type approved system, or temporarily using a foreign type-approved system deemed acceptable by the USCG for vessels trading in the United States.

The US Coast Guard confirmed in its 2 December bulletin that while it would continue to grant compliance date extensions for shipowners, the length of the extension will be only “for the minimum time needed” and on a case-by-case basis.

Examples of additional documentation in support of extension requests include written correspondence between the vessel operator and the BWMS manufacturer, confirming that the BWMS is not available for installation on that particular vessel or class of vessels until after the previously extended compliance date.

The US Coast Guard said it would also consider vessel design limitations, safety concerns related to installing type-approved systems, and “any other situation that may preclude a vessel from being fitted with a type-approved system”.