On December 2, 2016, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) issued its first Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) type-approval certificate, ushering in a new era in environmental compliance for companies operating commercial vessels with ballast water systems in U.S. waters (within 12 nautical miles). Based on public information about other, pending applications, we expect additional type approvals to issue soon.

According to the USCG, with type-approved BWMS now available, any owner/operator of a commercial vessel requesting a BWMS extension to the regulatory deadlines for compliance must provide the U.S. Coast Guard with an explicit statement supported by documentary evidence that installation of the type approved system is not possible. Previously, since no BWMS had received USCG type-approval, vessel owners/operators could apply for extensions to a vessel’s compliance date by annotating that compliance was not possible.

Extensions are now reviewed on a case-by-case basis and must be supported by additional documentation, such as copies of written correspondence between vessel owner/operators and BWMS manufacturer(s). Potential reasons for future compliance extension requests will likely include delays in some systems’ availability as manufacturing ramps up and delays in securing dry dock space or other berthing. As recently as September 2016, the USCG reported that it issued over 10,000 extension letters for vessels with 2014-2018 original compliance dates and that it is currently processing 1,000 applications with original compliance dates in 2019 and beyond. According to the USCG, pending applications will be held “in abeyance” until additional documentation is submitted under the revised guidance.

Ballast improves stability and maneuverability of large vessels at sea; however, left untreated, discharged ballast water can pose a serious ecological and economic risks. Ballast water can provide a host environment for a multitude of invasive marine species including bacteria, microbes, eggs, small invertebrates, and larvae. For example, green crab and zebra mussels from Europe have wreaked havoc upon North American shell fisheries and water systems. With more than sixty vendors endeavoring to operate in this space, a diverse range of ballast water treatment technologies currently exists including: chlorine dioxide (e.g. Ecochlor), ultraviolet irradiation, electro-chlorination, and others. There is no one-size-fits-all system or solution suitable for the range of ship sizes/ballast capacities, required pumping rates, operational situations and energy demands encountered by ocean-going vessels. As the USCG Marine Safety Center continues its review of other BWMS type approval applications, we will keep you apprised of new developments in this exciting area.

The United States is not alone in its efforts to mitigate threats posed by invasive marine species. As previously reported, the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s Ballast Water Management Convention was approved in 2004 and will enter into force on 8 September 2017.

The full text of USCG Marine Safety Bulletin 14-15, including a list of documentary evidence the can be found here. Information on the IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention can be found here.