Web alert: USCG Ballast Water Regulations

News & Insights 11 June 2014

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The issue of ballast water management (BWM) is the subject of legislation for both the IMO and various governments



The ability of ballast water to serve as a medium for the transfer of both invasive species and harmful bacteria has made the issue of ballast water management (BWM) the subject of legislation for both the IMO and various governments. One country which has legislated on this subject is the United States of America, where the USCG has published stringent legislation concerning BWM for vessels trading in US waters.
As of 31 May 2014, the IMO’s own ballast water convention was not yet in force, with 40 contracting states / parties representing 30.25% of the world’s tonnage as signatures. This percentage represents a shortfall of 4.75% of the required 35% (of world tonnage) for it to come into force, for the USCG however, no such legislative hurdles exists. Prompted by the ecological impact of the zebra mussel invasion of the Great Lakes during the 1980’s the US government drew up the ‘Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act’ (NANPCA) in 1990, this act was replaced in 1996 with the ‘National Invasive Species Act’ (NISA). NISA ensured the continuation of the programs already adopted and provided the USCG with the mandate to establish a voluntary BWM program for all ports outside of the Great Lakes.
Twenty years since the original ballast water legislation was enacted, the USCG issued its final rules for BWM called ‘Standards for Living Organisms in Ships Ballast Water Discharge in US Waters’. The final rule came into effect 21 June 2012 and mandated that certain types of vessels operating in US waters comply with stringent regulations concerning the management of ballast water.


The USCG Final Rule applies to two categories of vessels trading within US territorial seas i.e. 12 nautical miles from the coastal low water line.
The categories of vessel affected are those currently required to conduct ballast water exchange (BWE) and coastal vessels that do not operate outside of the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but are greater than 1,600 GRT and take on / discharge ballast between more than one ‘Captain of the Port Zones’.


A vessels compliance date depends on whether the vessel is deemed a new or existing vessel. Existing vessels are defined as a vessel, the keel of which was laid before 1 Dec 2013. Vessels whose keels were laid after 1 Dec 2013 are considered a new vessel.
New vessels must demonstrate their compliance from their delivery date, whilst existing vessels compliance dates will be the first ‘scheduled dry docking’ after 1 Jan 2014 or 2016.
An existing vessel’s compliance date falls in 2014 or 2016 depending on the ballast water capacity of the vessel.  Underwater surveys/UWILD or emergency dry docking will not trigger this requirement. 

Ballast water capacity Date of compliance
< 1,500 m3 1 Jan 2016
1,500 – 5,000 m3  1 Jan 2014
>5,000 m3 1 Jan 2016


A common misconception within the maritime industry is that the USCG final rules require all vessels to fit a USCG approved ballast water management system or alternative management system. It is important to note that there are five methods for compliance. 
Method 1: Ballast Water Management Systems
Installation of a USCG approved ballast water management system (BWMS). These systems treat ballast water using a variety of techniques to ensure that the ballast water discharged overboard meets the USCG standards. For a BWMS to be used to discharge ballast it must be approved by the USCG. The USCG has not approved any BWMS’s at this time.
Method 2: Alternative Management Systems
Installation of an alternative (ballast water) management system, (AMS). Alternative management systems are systems which have already been approved by another flag state, but have yet to be approved by the USCG. The USCG has produced a list of acceptable AMS which may suffice for a period of 5 years after a ship’s compliance date. It should be noted that at the end of the 5 year period an AMS must be type approved by the USCG, so that it may continue to be used.
Method 3: No discharge of ballast
 If a vessel does not intend to discharge ballast in US territorial waters this to will serve as a compliance measure. 

Method 4: Using water from a US public water supply to fill ballast tanks
Water from a public supply would be free from microbiological contamination and the invasive species that the regulations are designed to prevent and would also suffice as a means of compliance.
Method 5: Discharge of ballast water to shore reception facility
Discharge ballast to a reception facility ashore. This option ensures that ballast water which may be contaminated with harmful invasive species etc will not enter the local eco-system thus preventing contamination and serving as means for compliance.
Vessels which currently conduct BWE under the previous regulations may continue to do so until their vessel’s compliance date whereupon they must demonstrate compliance using one of five ballast water management options mentioned above.
For full details of the regulations, including the USCG ballast water discharge standard, record keeping requirements and additional requirements for removal of fouling organisms etc, please refer to the ‘Ballast Water Management’ section of the USCG’s Homeport website.

Categories: Pollution

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