New rules for ballast-water management are on the way

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta has directed the U.S. Coast Guard to propose new rules for tighter regulation of shipboard ballast-water management for all ships using U.S. waters.

Reducing the introduction of nonnative aquatic species into U.S. waters from ballast water has been a federal goal since 1990. The existing voluntary compliance procedures enacted in 1993 have proven ineffective. The new rules would introduce civil penalties — up to $25,000 per day for each violation of the requirements.

Over a two-year period, only about 20 to 40 percent of vessels have been filing the monthly reports called for under the current voluntary system, according to the Coast Guard. Of those vessels, 51.2 percent reported performing some degree of ballast-water exchange.

The voluntary system produced such a low level of compliance that the lack of data hindered the Coast Guard’s ability to make valid program assessments.

Vessel operators gave various reasons in their reports for not performing mid-ocean ballast-water exchange, including constraints posed by the vessel’s itinerary, as well as ship and crew safety concerns. However, the safety issue applied to only 4.6 percent of the vessels, according to the Coast Guard.

The magnitude of the problem was underscored by a study conducted for the Coast Guard by Battelle’s Ocean Sciences Lab, an arm of the Columbus, Ohio-based engineering consulting firm in Duxbury, Mass. That study estimated that over 21 billion gallons of ballast water is discharged into U.S. waters yearly.

The proposed regulations governing operations, record-keeping and reporting will apply to “all vessels equipped with ballast tanks that enter U.S. waters after operating beyond the EEZ (exclusive economic zone) or are engaged solely in voyages between U.S. ports.”

Under the new rules, there would be four acceptable methods of managing ballast water:

• Mid-ocean exchange of ballast water conducted more than 200 miles from any shore. Minimum water depth may be specified to comply with International Maritime Organization and other nations’ standards. Proper exchange requires flushing out ballast water by pumping in from the bottom of the tank and continuously overflowing from the tank top until three full volumes of water have been changed, or pumping it out the existing ballast water as close to 100 percent as possible then refilling with mid-ocean water.

• Retaining the ballast water onboard

• Discharging ballast water to an approved landside facility

• Using alternate environmentally sound shipboard water-treatment equipment that would reduce the need for mid-ocean exchanges

The new rules, according to Coast Guard estimates, will cost the industry $15.8 million annually.

The maritime industry has supported the goal of preventing the introduction of exotic species from ballast water but is concerned about implementation. Allied Transportation Co. in Norfolk, Va., says it now files 12 reports a year for its seven tugs and six barges fitted with ballast tanks.

Although it says its operations involve very small quantities of ballast water, the company estimates that the new rules would require it to file over 700 reports per year.

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association has said that penalties under the proposed rules would be excessive. Regarding fines and penalties, the Shipping Industry Ballast Water Coalition “strongly suggests that a two-year grace period be provided to (coastwise) vessels to assure integration of the new reporting requirements into vessel operating procedures and allow time for crews to learn and comply with these requirements.”

The federal ballast-water management programs began with passage by Congress of the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990. That legislation and the subsequent Coast Guard regulations of 1993 were based on voluntary compliance programs by all ships sailing into U.S. waters and ports. Specific regulations in 1993 applied to the Great Lakes and in 1994 to the Hudson River above the George Washington Bridge. New federal legislation in 1996 led to additional Coast Guard rules based on voluntary compliance without penalties.

By Professional Mariner Staff