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Vessel oil response plan rules clarified

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Faithful readers of The Triton may recall my very first column on the Nontank Vessel Response Plan (NTVRP) way back in 2006. At that time, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) required immediate action in regards to oil spill response operations. It needed to expand its program that applied only to tankers.



Known by the acronym of OPA 90, those regulations stemmed from the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was enacted in direct response to the events of the Exxon Valdez.



In December 2004, there was a major ship accident of a bulk carrier named the Selandang Ayu. While suffering a main engine loss about 100 miles from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, continued efforts to tow her and safely anchor were not successful. The subsequent grounding of the ship split the hull in half. The resulting damage caused her fuel oil and diesel tanks to spill in excess of 335,000 gallons.



Due to the size of the ship, her fuel oil capacity was equivalent to many tankers. Being located on a remote part of the Alaskan coast, the absence of any formal plan for oil spill response while specifically in U.S. waters added to the environmental damage.



The USCG published an initial implementation deadline of August 2005. What was missing from that initial notice were the actual regulations for compliance. The USCG issued a series of Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circulars (NVIC) to guide ship owners. This interim guidance was to be used until the USCG finalized the regulations required by the law.



Fast-forward eight years to September 2013 and we see that the USCG has finalized those regulations. Scheduled to officially take effect on Oct. 30, 2013, the regulations correspond to the law and will require all owners and operators of self-propelled nontank vessels of 400 gross tonnage and greater to prepare and submit an oil spill response plan.



For yachts, this includes all types, private or commercially registered.



The new regulations are nearly identical to the NVIC and amendments issued since 2005. The rules specify the content of a response plan and address, among other issues, the requirement to plan for responding to a worst case oil discharge and a substantial threat of such a discharge. Additionally, it updates the regulations relating to the international Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (SOPEP) requirements as they apply to certain nontank vessels and tank vessels under the U.S. flag.



The rule adds a new section to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 33 CFR part 155, subpart J, Nontank Vessel Response Plans (33 CFR 155.5010-155.5075) and revises portions of 33 CFR parts 151, 155, and 160.



As stipulated in these sections, 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; and

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.



The NTVRP requirements align to the existing tank vessel response plan requirements, including common definitions and plan elements. However, while tank vessels must comply with all functional elements listed in the CFR, the USCG has tailored the requirements for some nontank vessels.



This is best illustrated in the NTVRP’s planning elements, specifically the criteria for response services. They are scaled to oil capacity. For smaller nontank vessels with corresponding smaller oil capacities, there are fewer NTVRP functional planning requirements. As such, the response services a nontank vessel owner must plan for are scaled to the oil capacity and risk of the vessel.



Doing so allows the USCG to minimize the burden in carrying out the statutory mandate and focus on those vessels that present the greatest risk to the environment should a breach occur.



Lastly, the final rule implements a new stipulation. It mandates vessel owners or operators to submit their vessel response plan control number as part of the already-required advance notice of arrival (ANOA) information. This new pre-screening process may foreshadow possible yacht entries being denied due to noncompliance with the NTVRP regulations.



Since this requirement has been in place since 2005, most large yachts that call upon U.S. waters already have an NTVRP in place. However, it is important for the captain to ensure that the plan is current and accurate.



During the course of our work on board multiple yachts, IYB surveyors have observed that many yachts possess a written plan on board, but it does not reflect the current owner or other important details. Unlike the SOPEP manual, the NTVRP has a mandatory U.S.-based shoreside component that must be tested on a quarterly basis.



If you run a yacht that this regulation applies to and you are unaware of the name of your Qualified Individual, how to contact that person, or if the associated oil spill response equipment is available, take action immediately. Please do not wait until your ANOA is denied and the scramble begins.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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