US Coast Guard gets tough on nontank vessel response plans


The US Coast Guard has warned ship owners to ensure they possess up to date nontank vessel response plans or face rigorous inspection. Owners should also submit their plans to the Coast Guard as soon as possible and if they have, they should ensure they are still current.

As some nontank vessels have still not submitted NTVRPs and because nontank vessels also pose the risk of serious bunker spills, the Coast Guard will screen all nontank vessels prior to their first arrival in the US for the submission of NTVRPs. The COSCO BUSAN oil spill reinvigorated the interest in this rather dormant rulemaking. It is worth noting, however, that the COSCO BUSAN did, in fact, have an NTVRP in place.

The United States Coast Guard issued the notice to inform US and foreign-flag nontank vessel owners and operators that it will begin enforcing the requirement to prepare and submit a nontank vessel response plan (“NTVRP”) for certain nontank vessels from August 22, this year.

The US Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004, which was signed into law on August 9, 2004, required owners and operators of all nontank vessels of 400 gross tons or greater as measured under the International Tonnage Convention to prepare and submit NTVRPs to the Coast Guard by August 8, 2005. The Coast Guard issued Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular Number 01-05, which was amended by Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular Number 01-05, CH-1 (“NVIC 01-05, CH-1”), in order to provide interim guidance for the development and review of NTVRPs.

The initial Coast Guard enforcement will focus on nontank vessels of at least 1,600 gross tons. The local Coast Guard Captain of the Port may place operational restrictions on non-compliant vessels under the authority of regulations issued under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (“PWSA”). The Coast Guard will rely on PWSA for enforcement actions until its NTVRP regulations are promulgated due to the uncertainty of enforcement authority under the Act pending issuance of the regulations.