U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Vessel General Permit

March 2009

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EPA’s Vessel General Permit covering discharges incidental to normal vessel operations became effective on 6 February 2009 and applies when vessels operate within three nautical miles of the U.S. coast. The final VGP, issued originally on 18 December 2008, was re-issued in a modified form on 5 February 2009*. The modified VGP deletes many of the more onerous state provisions, and adds provisions for two states, that if not deleted or added would have resulted, inadvertently, in many vessels not being able to trade in California, Hawaii, Alaska, Illinois, and New Jersey.

The VGP covers 26 discharge streams incidental to the normal operation of a commercial vessel. As of 6 February vessel owners/operators were required to implement “best management practices” (BMPs) to minimize discharges incidental to normal operations, including:

  • bilge and ballast water
  • deck runoff,
  • chain locker effluent,
  • oil-sea interfaces, and cooling water, among others.

Vessel owners/operators must be cognisant of the fact that individual states may have requirements more stringent than federal requirements.

As of 19 February vessel owners/operators were required to implement various training, inspection, and recordkeeping protocols. The VGP sets forth a routine inspection program requiring a company to establish per voyage or weekly inspections (whichever is more frequent), quarterly inspections, and annual inspections, as well as drydock inspections, which must be documented and made available for inspection. Reports of non-compliance are required annually and a one-time permit report is required between 30 and 36 months after obtaining permit coverage. If a discharge occurs that could endanger health or the environment, an oral report is required within 24 hours followed by a written report within five days.

In addition to the above-mentioned inspections, all of which must be logged, the VGP also includes requirements for corrective actions, which must be conducted for each found deficiency. Vessel owners/operators will have to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) to be covered by the VGP between 19 June and 19 September 2009. Until that time, vessels are deemed automatically covered.

Vessel owners/operators should do the following immediately if they’ve not already done so:

  1. review the VGP and Fact Sheet;
  2. assess which discharges they have that are listed;
  3. review the best management practices in the VGP for each discharge and ascertain what they already have in place;
  4. determine what additional measures they will need to put in place and implement them;
  5. train crew and shoreside personnel on the VGP requirements;
  6. develop a "compliance plan" that will assist in this endeavor or incorporate the practices/procedures into the Safety Management System; and
  7. develop the necessary forms/recordkeeping procedures required by the VGP to help ensure compliance.

Note that even though the VGP only applies to discharges within three miles of the coastline, EPA’s expectation is that vessels will be in compliance with the VGP prior to entering U.S. waters. For example, if EPA inspects a vessel on its arrival in port, EPA will request documentation of the routine inspections (voyage, weekly, and quarterly), as well as the annual and drydock inspections, for the most recent prior period, assuming the due dates occurred during the period the VGP has been in effect. This means owners/operators will need to do certain of these inspections even when not operating in U.S. waters.

The implications of the VGP remain large. Even though EPA is in a compliance-assistance mode rather than an enforcement mode, owners and operators should now be in compliance and maintaining records as required by the VGP.

This item is based on an article published by Blank Rome in Mainbrace of March 2009 (No.2).

Background information on this subject can be found in Club circulars B.478 and B.480, both of December 2008.