News 21 Feb, 2011

USA - VGP Compliance Checks

Background  

Although the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP) regulations have been mandatory since February 2009, the number of compliance checks carried out to date has been limited. This is about to change as the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the EPA have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) covering compliance assistance, compliance monitoring and the enforcement of VGP requirements. The MoU sets out the steps that both agencies will take in order to prevent illegal discharges of pollutants and describes how the new arrangements will function.

The USCG will also incorporate certain parts of the VGP regulations into its foreign flag and domestic vessel inspection programmes.  

VGP Requirements  

The VGP regulations require vessel owners or operators to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) to receive permit coverage, and a one-time permit report between 30 and 36 months thereafter. The regulations cover 26 different types of discharges and require vessel owners or operators to address issues such as the training of crewmembers, monitoring, periodic inspections and reporting, and to make assessments and take corrective action as necessary. The compliance checks will focus on all of these activities.    

USCG Enforcement  

The USCG has recently issued a Policy Letter entitled “Guidelines for Coast Guard Evaluations of Compliance with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Vessel General Permit (VGP) for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of Vessels”. The letter indicates that the compliance checks will commence on 13 March 2011 and contains a VGP “Job Aid” detailing the areas that will be subject to scrutiny.

The policy letter does not indicate whether the USCG will also verify compliance with individual State obligations in addition to VGP requirements. However, vessels should ensure that they comply with both.  

Penalties  

If any deficiencies regarding VGP compliance are found during an inspection, the Master will be informed. All deficiencies as well as the corrective action taken or planned will be reported to the EPA. The MoU notes that the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act to address VGP violations includes administrative orders, administrative penalties and judicial action.

If deficiencies are found which contravene both VGP requirements and USCG regulations (eg failure to maintain ballast water records in accordance with USCG regulation 33 CFR 151 and VGP section 2.2.3), in addition to any EPA penalties the vessel will also be subject to customary Port State Control measures which, subject to the nature of the deficiency, may include detention.  

VGP Inspection

The VGP items listed in the USCG’s “Job Aid” are summarised below and represent minimum inspection criteria. In practice the scope of the inspection may be more extensive depending on the condition of the vessel, the operation of its systems and the competency of its crew.  

Awareness and Record Keeping:  

  • Are senior crewmembers aware of VGP requirements?
  • Has an NOI been submitted?
  • Are records of routine visual, annual and drydock inspections being kept?
  • Are corrective action assessments being made and records of completed actions maintained?
  • Is a ballast water management plan in place, and is it understood and being followed by personnel involved in ballasting activities?
  • Are records of ballast water exchanges and saltwater flushing being kept?
  • Are bilge water discharge records being kept?

 Deck/Topside Walk:  

  • Is the housekeeping on deck and in work areas adequate?
  • Is the deck free of clutter, garbage and fuel/oil spills?
  • Are drip trays and save-alls in place and being utilised correctly?

  Additional for Medium and Large Cruise Vessels:  

  • Are adequate discharge records of untreated greywater being kept?
  • Is the vessel complying with untreated greywater overboard discharge requirements?
  • Are adequate records regarding the discharge of treated greywater being kept?
  • Have treated greywater discharges been monitored to ensure they comply with the required limits and are suitable monitoring records being maintained?
  • Are treated greywater discharge samples being taken and are sample records kept on board for the minimum periods as required by the regulations?
  • Are adequate records of swimming pool and spa water discharges being maintained?
  • Where swimming pool or spa water has been discharged into the sea, do the records show that it was tested prior to discharge to verify compliance with regulatory requirements?

Further information on the VGP regulations can be found on the EPA’s website: EPA Vessel General Permit.  

If further guidance is required, please contact the Loss Prevention department.