One September 30, 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard announced its final rule regarding nontank vessels carrying oil in U.S. waters. This final rule specifies the content of nontank vessel response plans (NTVRP) and addresses the requirement to plan for responding to a worst-case discharge and a substantial threat of such a discharge. Nontank vessel owners and operators must comply with the preparation and submission requirements of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Acts of 2004 and 2006 and requires owners and operators to prepare and submit oil spill response plans.
This NTVRP final rule expands response plan requirements from only tank vessels, for which regulations were initially issued in 1993, to include nontank vessels. This expansion recognizes the significant increase in the quantity of petroleum and petroleum products carried as bunker for fuel and the potentially catastrophic consequences should a mishap result in tank breach. The Coast Guard states that a significant number of today's large nontank vessels carry more oil than many of the tank vessels did as cargo when the original tank vessel response plan requirements were initiated. These statutorily mandated requirements fill this regulatory gap and enhance the national oil response infrastructure.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the NTVRP rule will improve the nation's pollution response planning and preparedness posture, and help limit the environmental damage resulting from nontank vessel marine casualties.
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act defines a nontank vessel as a self-propelled vessel of 400 gross tons or greater that operates on U.S. navigable waters while carrying oil of any kind as fuel for main propulsion and is not a tank vessel. The response services a nontank vessel owner or operator must plan for are scaled to the risk (i.e., oil capacity) of the vessel. Doing so allows the Coast Guard to minimize burden in carrying out the statutory mandate and focus on those vessels which present the greatest risk to the environment should a breach occur. The Coast Guard revisions include provisions to allow nontank owners or operators to submit their VRP electronically.
Per 33 U.S.C. 1321(j)(5)(D)(i-iv), a response plan must:
- Be consistent with the requirements of the National Contingency Plan and Area Contingency Plans.
- Identify the qualified individual having full authority to implement removal actions, and require immediate communications between that individual and the appropriate Federal official and the persons providing personnel and equipment.
- Identify, and ensure by contract or other approved means the availability of, private personnel and equipment necessary to remove to the maximum extent practicable a worst case discharge (including a discharge resulting from fire or explosion), and to mitigate or prevent a substantial threat of such a discharge.
- Describe the training, equipment testing, periodic unannounced drills, and response actions of persons on the vessel or at the facility, to be carried out under the plan to ensure the safety of the vessel or facility and to mitigate or prevent the discharge, or the substantial threat of a discharge.
This final rule supports the Coast Guard's strategic goals of protection of natural resources and maritime mobility. This pre-planning will create vital linkages between the shipping industry and oil spill response service providers (such as oil spill removal organizations (OSROs), salvage companies, and marine firefighting companies), ensuring that mechanisms are in place to immediately respond to an emergency.
This final rule goes into effect October 30, 2013.
For a free download of a Response Procedures Flowchart, click the image below: