US terminal operators taking on ballast water fees

WWL's ro-ro Tonsberg
WWL's ro-ro Tonsberg

US West Coast terminal operators are lobbying hard to bring down state-driven fees associated with ballast water management schemes that operators and vessel owners say can impede their ability to compete.

The latest proposal, being considered by state lawmakers in Washington, would create a USD125 fee to be collected from foreign owners or operators of every vessel calling at a US port.

The fee would be used to help pay for the state’s ballast water management programme, which includes vessel inspections and ballast water enforcement activities – activities that terminal operator representatives claim are being carried out by the US Coast Guard (USCG).

“It’s not just the cost of the fee, but once those fees are in place, it sends a signal that they are also likely to increase, and that states will be looking to enact copycat fees with other programmes,” Mike Moore, vice-president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, told IHS Markit.

“If they’re not needed, why put them in place? Our [Pacific Northwest] gateway competition is already strong. These fees only further increase uncertainty, which hurts our ability to compete.”

Increases in state ballast water vessel fees have played out in Oregon, which recently raised its per vessel fee to USD88. In California, a proposal to raise the fee from USD850 to USD1,000 is currently being considered.

A budget analysis of Washington’s proposed legislation found that the state expects to collect 3,675 qualified vessel arrival fees each year, placing revenue collected at USD459,000/year starting in FY 2018. In 2016, roughly 2,000 vessels called at Seattle and Tacoma on Puget Sound, the state’s two largest ports.

But Moore, a USCG veteran and former captain of the port stationed in Seattle, said that 78% of the vessels arriving in Puget Sound don’t discharge ballast water at all. Crude tankers, for example, bring in oil and take on ballast water when they leave. Others vessels perform mid-ocean ballast exchange.

Bulkers, a vessel class most susceptible to the ballast water regulations, are under close scrutiny through the USCG’s ballast water management inspection programme. Coast Guard inspections are expected to become increasingly strict now that there are three type-approved ballast water treatment systems available, with more soon to come.

Moore plans to continue lobbying Washington lawmakers to reconsider the fee by making sure they’re aware of the strong federal oversight.

“We just want to make sure that we’re justifying the fees so that these regulations are not duplicated and we can let our gateway compete on its business merits.”