Clarification on new US Ballast Rules

Two major initiatives have been announced over the past six weeks by the United States Coast Guard concerning ballast water management for ships entering U.S. waters. Although INTERTANKO reported on each of these new final rule-makings in sequence, a further clarification is given below in response to recent enquiries.

The first of the two final rules was to mandate the submission of ballast water reporting forms. Full details of this requirement was given in our article in Weekly NEWS No. 25 of 18 June 2004 which explained that all vessels arriving in U.S. ports from outside the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) would have to submit a ballast water reporting form or face the possibility of a penalty fine of up to USD 27,500. This requirement will enter into force on 13 August 2004.

The second of the two final rules is based on the mandatory application of the voluntary ballast water management guidelines for vessels entering U.S. waters (read U.S. EEZ) (
see Weekly NEWS No. 31 of 30 July 2004). This will enter into force on 27 September 2004. The rule requires all ships entering the U.S. EEZ to employ ballast water management and accepts that, at present, this means ballast water exchange as no other treatment method has yet been approved by the USCG. The two acceptable methods of ballast water exchange are the ‘flow-through’ and the ‘empty-refill’ methods.

It is well understood by the USCG that vessels in coastwise trade may not travel outside the 200 mile limit and so the Coast Guard is examining the establishment of ballast exchange zones within this 200 mile limit. Until further notice has been given by the Coast Guard on this aspect, vessels in coastwise trade are exempted from the ballast exchange requirements. Note that this does not exclude the requirement to develop a ballast water management plan.

In addition to the management requirement, this second rule-making also mandates the use of a vessel-specific ballast water management plan. Further slight amendments have been made to the voluntary scheme so that it lends itself to a more practical mandatory requirement. Of particular importance is the change in exchange requirements. Previously these had been limited to conducting an exchange in waters greater than 2000 metres in depth, whereas the new requirements are more in line with the IMO Convention in stipulating that exchange be conducted in waters no less than 200 metres in depth and no less than 200 miles from the shore (USA coast).

An exemption clause is included in the second rule and recognises that it is not always possible to conduct ballast water exchange due to safety and/or other voyage concerns.

In this event, the reasons for not conducting ballast water exchange must be clearly documented in the ballast water management plan.

33 CFR Part 151 of the Federal Register gives the full text of the ‘Mandatory Ballast Water Management Program for US Waters’.

Contact: Tim Wilkins