U.S. now requires non-tank vessels to have oil-spill response plans

A nine-year regulatory process has ended and it’s now official: Non-tank vessels over 400 gross tons need an oil-spill response plan to operate in U.S. waters, with resource providers identified and the plan backed by contract. Nearly 12,000 vessels are affected.

The regulations, a result of a directive in the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004, shouldn’t come as a surprise to operators. In 2005, the Coast Guard issued guidance on submitting a non-tank vessel response plan (NTVRP), which was followed by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2009. The final rule was published Sept. 30 in the Federal Register. Compliance is required by Jan. 30, 2014.

The rule pertains to self-propelled, non-tank vessels of 400 gross tons or greater that operate in the navigable waters of the United States and carry any kind of oil as fuel for main propulsion. Foreign-flag vessels comprise 75 percent of the total. About 60 percent of the rule’s $263 million, 10-year cost will be borne by foreign-vessel owners and operators.

Jennifer Carpenter, senior vice president of national advocacy for the American Waterways Operators (AWO), said the group advised its members during the lengthy regulatory process to adhere to the Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) issued in 2005.

“Our hope and expectation is that if you have followed the guidance in the NVIC, you should be 99 percent of the way to where you need to be,” she said.

Included in the NVIC was a recommendation to voluntarily submit response plans to the Coast Guard in order to receive interim authorization letters. Carpenter said AWO members were doing that during the regulatory process and the Coast Guard was issuing the documentation.

A major component of the final rule is a requirement to identify and ensure “by contract or other approved means” the resources of a qualified salvage and marine firefighting provider. “Other approved means” include self-certification or membership with a local or regional resource organization.

“You’re not just identifying a response resource in your plan, saying this is who I’m going to call. You actually need to have a contract in place with responders who are going to come when you need them,” Carpenter said. “And that extends to salvage and firefighting regulations. Vessels with the largest fuel capacity are essentially facing contract requirements akin to what are in place for tank vessels.”

The Coast Guard said the NTVRP requirements align as much as possible with rules issued in 2008 for tank vessel response plans. Some of the non-tank rules are tailored to take fuel capacity into account.

“For smaller non-tank vessels with … smaller oil capacities, there are fewer NTVRP functional planning requirements,” the Coast Guard stated. “As such, the response services a non-tank vessel owner or operator must plan for are scaled to the risk … of the vessel.”

Lindsay Malen, director of business development for Titan Salvage and Marine Response Alliance, said resource providers have worked with clients to keep them up to date about the regulations. For operators who have both tank and non-tank vessels, he said this is an opportunity to audit a current provider or vet a new one to make sure needs are met.

“The tank regulations were just a test drive,” Malen said. With the non-tank rules, “we are now dealing with every species of vessel from megayachts to containerships.”

By Professional Mariner Staff