Perhaps the most important and anticipated part of a ship's voyage is arriving at port. While it's an exciting time for vessel owners, there are a number of complexities involved in the process.
As difficult as it can be for a US-flagged vessel to remain compliant with all current federal requirements, things are far more challenging for a foreign-flagged vessel.
Once every few months we work with vessel operators who are calling US ports for the first time. In addition to general duties, there are several long lead-time federal requirements foreign vessel operators must meet prior to trading in US waters. Below we've put together a list of four requirements to help vessel owners be compliant with US maritime laws and regulations:
All vessels over 300 gross tons are required to apply for a certificate of financial responsibility (COFR) with the US Coast Guard National Pollution Funds Center. The COFR process was implemented as a result of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA90) and evidences that there is a responsible party on file who can be held financially liable in the event of an oil spill.
This process is normally handled by the vessel owner in conjunction with their P&I club, surety, or OPA 90 Compliance firm.
Application process is online and approximately 21 days. There is a one-time, non-refundable application fee of $200 and an additional fee of $100/vessel. To verify if your vessel has a current COFR on file—you can search the USCG COFR database.
The US Government has mandated that non-tank vessel owners or operators are to prepare and submit oil or hazardous substance discharge response plans for certain vessels operating on the navigable waters of the United States. This rule applies to owners or operators of a self-propelled, non-tank vessel of 400 gross tons or greater, which operates on the navigable waters of the United States.
Generally, the VRP is developed in conjunction with the vessel owners contracted OPA 90 compliance firm and Oil Spill Recovery (OSRO) contractor. Vessel Response Plans take normally 2-3 weeks to be reviewed and authorized and approval status can be queried on the USCG VRP Status Board.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes authority for the NPDES permitting program to regulate discharges incidental to the normal operation of a commercial vessels. This includes a broad range of discharges such as ballast water, bilge water, grey-water (e.g., water from sinks, showers), and deck wash-down and runoff. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controls these incidental discharges primarily through the Vessel General Permit (VGP).
Vessels over 79ft length overall (LOA) who plan operate/call US waters (0-3 miles) are required to comply with the VGP and submit an electronic notice of intent (NOI). The purpose of the NOI is for the vessel owner/operator to certify a vessel has implemented sufficient policies to ensure compliance with the VGP inspection, monitoring and documentation requirements. Vessels that have not previously submitted an NOI needs to submit a NOI at least 30 days prior to operating in US waters.
Once the NOI is submitted, you'll receive a confirmation documentation includes a certificate of coverage and official copy of the completed NOI form, both auto-generated by the EPA. Copies of these two documents must be maintained on board the vessel and made available upon request to USCG during Port State Control Inspections.
The VGP requires that owners/operators provide annual reports in the EPAs eNOI system. A link to the eNOI portal can be found here.
In addition to federal conditions, there are state specific requirements that must be obtained before vessels enter into state waters. For example, Alaska, Washington, California and Oregon all have state specific Oil Spill Removal Organization (OSRO) coverage. Meanwhile, both Texas and Louisiana require all vessels to register and file their Ship Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (SOPEP) with the state. Whether you're calling port in the US for the first time or the 100th, following these regulations is a crucial part to the success of your ship's voyage. With lead-times spanning up to 30 days, proper planning and execution is vital when entering US waters. Gulf Marine Contractors (GMC) has an industry experienced support team available to help your vessel secure the right documents in a time efficient manner. Please contact us if you'd like more information on working in US Waters or on the US Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).