Coast Guard issues guidance on compliance with ballast water convention

The following is text from a policy letter issued by the U.S. Coast Guard:

(WASHINGTON) — This policy letter provides guidance to Coast Guard marine inspectors, authorized classification societies (ACS) that are authorized to issue international convention certificates on behalf of the Coast Guard in its capacity as the flag administration, and U.S.-flagged vessel owners/operators concerning the requirements of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (hereinafter referred to as the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention). Through this policy letter, the Coast Guard is establishing a voluntary inspection program for U.S.-flagged commercial vessel owners/operators who wish to document compliance with the standards of the BWM Convention. U.S.-flagged commercial vessels that operate on international routes (i.e., those ships that will enter the ports of countries that are parties to the BWM Convention) are encouraged to participate.

The International Maritime Organization's Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention enters into force today (Sept. 8). Under the BWM Convention, certain vessels flagged by countries that have ratified the BWM Convention (hereinafter referred to as parties) are required to maintain a valid BWM Convention certificate issued by their flag administration (or by another party if authorized by the vessel’s administration).

The BWM Convention certificate validates that a ship has successfully completed a survey conducted in accordance with the BWM Convention’s requirements. Foreign administration Port State Control officers (PSCOs) may validate that the ship has a valid certificate, inspect the ballast water record book, and/or sample the ballast water. If the PSCOs identify concerns, the BWM Convention allows them to carry out a detailed inspection and “take such steps as will ensure that the ship shall not discharge ballast water until it can do so without presenting a threat of harm to the environment, human health, property or resources.”

The U.S. is not signatory to the BWM Convention, and the Coast Guard cannot mandate compliance with the BWM Convention’s requirements either for U.S.-flagged vessels or for foreign vessels operating on the navigable waters of the United States. In contrast, parties to the BWM Convention are required to impose BWM Convention requirements on all party and non-party vessels when calling on their ports (Article 3, Paragraph 3: “no more favorable treatment clause”). U.S.-flagged vessels operating in a party’s waters should be prepared to demonstrate compliance with the BWM Convention or be at risk for Port State Control actions, including detention.

The BWM Convention’s requirements and the Coast Guard’s regulations are generally aligned. However, U.S.-flagged vessels should be aware of differences between the two regimes. These differences include the requirement that a vessel: 1) maintain a BWM plan approved by its flag administration, 2) maintain a BWM record book, and 3) have evidence that it has been surveyed and certificated in accordance with the provisions of Section E of the BWM Convention.

A U.S.-flagged vessel may be eligible to receive a Coast Guard issued Statement of Voluntary Compliance (SOVC) if the vessel owners/operators demonstrate compliance with the BWM Convention’s requirements. ACSs have the training to carry out inspections consistent with the BWM Convention and are recognized by the Coast Guard to conduct certain functions and certifications on behalf of the Coast Guard.

Click here to read the complete policy letter.

By Professional Mariner Staff