Coast Guard gives guidelines for non-tanker spill response plans
The U.S. Coast Guard has issued interim guidance for meeting rules stipulating the development and review of oil spill response plans for non-tank vessels.
The rules apply to self-propelled non-tanker ships of 400 gross tons or higher that carry oil of any kind as fuel for main propulsion, and that is either a U.S. vessel or a foreign ship operating on navigable U.S. waters — meaning on all internal waters and within the three-nautical mile territorial sea limit.
As required by the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-293), a non-tank vessel of 400 gross tons or more must submit to the Coast Guard for approval a response plan consistent with requirements of national contingency plans. Such requirements include identifying and having available 'by contract or other approved means' private personnel and equipment necessary 'to remove to the maximum extent practicable a worse-case discharge,' the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The response plans must also include methods of training crew and testing shipboard equipment, as well as proof of periodic unannounced drills to sharpen vessel readiness.
All response plans for non-tank ships must be submitted to the Coast Guard no later than Aug. 8. U.S. vessels that do not operate on U.S. navigable waters are not required to identify and have available response resources in the event of spills.
The Coast Guard does not address the costs of meeting these new requirements, which are expected to be substantial, especially for small operators with minimal infrastructure.
During the early days of implementation of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90), the Coast Guard issued unofficial guidance on how tank vessels could prepare and submit response plans. Tank vessel response plans that were duly submitted in accordance with that unofficial guidance were accepted by the Coast Guard as satisfying applicable regulations when such rules were eventually issued in their final form.
That process appears to be under way again for non-tank vessels. See guidelines contained in the Coast Guard's Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01-05, 70 Fed. Reg. 7955.