In January, the U.S. Coast Guard expanded the regulations for reporting marine casualties. With the new rules, “significant harm to the environment” has become a reportable marine casualty category. Previously, there were only four categories: death of an individual, serious injury to an individual, material loss of property, and material damage affecting the seaworthiness of a vessel.
In addition, the new regulations require foreign-flag oil tankers to report all casualties within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (but beyond U.S. navigable waters — three miles) when they involve material damage that affects the seaworthiness or efficiency of the vessel, or results in significant harm to the environment.
According to federal regulations, a discharge that results in “significant harm to the environment” within U.S. navigable waters means a discharge of oil as stated in 40 CFR 110.3, or a discharge of hazardous substances equal to or exceeding in any 24-hour period the reportable quantity determined in 40 CFR 117, or a discharge of oil in excess of the quantities permitted in 33 CFR 151.10 or 151.13, or a discharge of noxious liquid substances in bulk in violation of sections 151.1126 or 153.1128.
In waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction (including the EEZ), this can include discharges of oil, hazardous substances, marine pollutants, or noxious liquid substances. Factors that can determine if a discharge is probable include ship location, proximity to land or other navigational hazards, weather, current, sea state, traffic density, nature of the vessel damage, and failure or breakdown aboard a vessel, its machinery, or equipment.
Initially, verbal notice of a casualty is required. It includes the nature and extent of injuries, and property damage. A written report must then be filed within five days, along with a report of chemical, drug, and alcohol testing.
Another Coast Guard regulation scheduled to take effect on June 20 will require alcohol testing within two hours of a serious marine accident. As a result, alcohol-testing kits will become standard equipment aboard commercial vessels.