Data reveal US hard line on ballast water extensions

Lantz told CMA attendees to consider modifying a ship's footprint for ballast water equipment. Credit: Chris Preovolos
Lantz told CMA attendees to consider modifying a ship's footprint for ballast water equipment. Credit: Chris Preovolos

Vessel owners and operators seeking more time to comply with US ballast water regulations are running into firm resistance from regulators for failing to meet strict new extension criteria.

During the first quarter of 2017, 45 vessels requesting a compliance extension were denied because they already had a working ballast water management system (BWMS) installed.

Nine of those requests were for bulkers built between 2015 and 2017, owned by NYSE-listed Scorpio Bulkers. Another nine ships were for bulkers built between 2007 and 2012 and owned by Cosco Southern Asphalt Shipping, a subsidiary of China’s Cosco.

The US Coast Guard (USCG) had been routinely granting extensions since the US regulation went into force in June 2012 because there were no systems available that could eliminate invasive species carried in a ship’s ballast water tanks to US standards.

But the USCG tightened its standards beginning this year, after having type-approved systems by three BWMS manufacturers in December. Since then, ships that have BWMSs that qualify as an alternate management system (AMS) by the USCG are considered to be in compliance – and therefore are not eligible for an extension.

“The existing compliance dates remain valid for these ships, so we’re not going to grant an extension for ships with an AMS system,” said Jeffrey Lantz, the coast guard’s director for commercial regulations and standards, speaking at the Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA) annual shipping conference in Stamford, Connecticut, on 22 March. “We figure that is one method of compliance if they have that installed on a ship.”

The USCG outlined its strict new extension policy on 6 March. Meant to put pressure on shipowners to make equipment investment decisions, the policy includes a requirement that vessel owners that can show that the three US type-approved systems are not suitable for their vessel have to provide a detailed installation plan for how they intend to comply.

As of 17 March, according to USCG data, 39 extension requests were denied for “unsatisfactory justification” reasons. Seven requests were rescinded for providing no strategy at all.

At the same time, the data show 234 extension requests were either granted or held in abeyance after vessel operators provided evidence of contractual limitations that prevented them from complying with the regulation. Another 24 requests were granted after operators showed there physical, operational, or other limitations precluding BWMS installation.

“We will pay particular attention to the owner or operator who demonstrates matching a ship’s operating profile to those of a Coast Guard type-approved system,” Lantz told CMA attendees. “We know that no single system is going to fit all ships, but we do expect owners and operators to take advantage of engineering and operational solutions. Maybe that means modifications of the ship’s footprint, or power may be an issue they have to resolve. If they can show us how they will take those into consideration and tell us when they can have it done, those are the factors we’ll consider.”

A fourth US type-approved system could be available by the end of April, based on the time it has taken the USCG to evaluate BWMS final applications.