Lately, I have been reading reports regarding the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) escalating enforcement of ballast water discharge violations. In the first case, the USCG initiated a civil penalty proceeding against a bulk carrier for discharging ballast water in Washington State without using a USCG Type Approved Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) or other approved means. The USCG proposed the maximum penalty of $38,175. In a more recent case, the USCG issued a $5,000 fine for a similar unauthorized ballast water discharge in Oregon. In both situations, the violations were discovered during routine port state control (PSC) BWM examinations.
Beyond the obvious fines or delays in vessel schedules, there are imminent risks to the shipowner associated with the USCG’s current focus on BWMS violations. First, there are many BWMS currently onboard vessels that either do not work at all or are so temperamental that the ship’s crew has not been able to operate them properly. ABS recently issued a report indicating as many as 45 percent of installed BWMS are not operating as intended. Factors such as ballast water salinity, temperature and turbidity can adversely impact the performance of some systems, particularly if the crew is not experienced enough to make the necessary operational adjustments for the system to meet the regulatory requirements.
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