New ballast water regulations looming

On March 23, the U.S. Coast Guard published new ballast water regulations that go into effect on June 21. It is a complicated regulation, so here are some of the highlights:

  • Preamble – The Coast Guard explains that a ballast-water exchange method “is not well suited” as the basis for the program required by the National Invasive Species Act, in part because studies have shown that in some vessels a large number of invasive species may remain after ballast water exchange. Further justification is provided for the Coast Guard’s requiring approved Ballast Water Management Systems (BWMS) to be installed on vessels.
  • Applicability – Generally, the regulations apply to all non-recreational vessels with ballast tanks, operating in U.S. waters. There are exemptions from certain sections for certain vessels. For example, a vessel operating in one Captain of the Port (COTP) Zone is exempt from ballast water management, reporting and record-keeping requirements. Keep in mind that if a vessel makes such a claim for these exemptions, the Coast Guard may place a restrictive endorsement on the vessel’s certificate of inspection (COI) restricting it to one COTP Zone. Some vessels are only exempt from the ballast water management requirements but not the other requirements, such as record-keeping and reporting requirements.
  • Ballast Water Management – There are a number of options for managing ballast water included in this section ranging from installing a Ballast Water Management System (BWMS), which is a Coast Guard approved piece of equipment, or using a public water system, to name two. However, it makes the public water option more difficult than before by requiring prior tank cleaning as well as documentation and receipts as proof. There is a phase-in schedule for vessels required to install the new equipment based upon their next drydock after a given date.
  • Ballast Water Management Plans and Training – 33CFR 151.2050 applies to all vessels equipped with ballast tanks and requires a vessel-specific ballast water management plan and training for crews.
  • Port State Control – Regarding foreign flag vessels, the preamble mentions that port state control officers will serve as the final enforcement check of BWMS.
  • EPA Vessel General Permit (VGP) – The preamble mentions that the new EPA VGP is out for comment and that when it is finalized, the ballast water requirements contained in the VGP may differ from the Coast Guard’s regulation. Attention will have to be paid to both.
  • Penalties – Finally, the regulation states that any person who violates this subpart is liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $35,000, and each day constitutes a separate violation. Additionally, a person who knowingly violates the regulations of this subpart is guilty of a class C felony.

There is a great deal of information in the new regulation and I encourage you to take the time to read through it.

About the author

Kevin Gilheany

Kevin Gilheany is a marine consultant and owner of Maritime Compliance International in New Orleans. He works with companies to help increase profitability through improved compliance and management systems. Gilheany is a retired U.S. Coast Guard marine inspector, certified marine surveyor and auditor, and crew endurance management expert. He has also provided contract training to the U.S. Coast Guard, was an adjunct instructor of maritime security at Tulane University’s Homeland Security Studies Program, and has contributed to marine industry publications. He can be reached at or

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