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August 26, 2008

Coast Guard enforces nontank vessel response plan rule

The U.S. Coast Guard announced today the beginning of enforcement of the requirements for owners and operators of large cargo vessels other than tankers, known as nontank vessels, to prepare and submit plans for responding to a worst case oil spill from their vessels.

Should a nontank vessel be found operating in a U.S. port or waterway without a properly submitted response plan, the Coast Guard Captain of the Port will exercise authority under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 and impose operational controls, as necessary, on the vessel to safeguard the port.

A nontank vessel is described as a self-propelled vessel of 400 gross tons or greater that operates on the navigable waters of the U.S., carries oil of any kind as fuel for main propulsion and is not a tank vessel. Tank vessels are required to hae response plans under 33 CFR part 155, subpart D, and are currently screened by the Coast Guard for compliance prior to port entry.

"Oil carried as fuel in large cargo ships can result in a major oil spill in the event of an accident," said Rear Adm. Brian M. Salerno, assistant commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety, Security and Stewardship Directorate. "Although we work to prevent accidents in the first place, this enforcement policy will make sure that cargo ships, such as tankers, have pre-identified and arranged for the resources needed to respond effectively, should an accident occur."

The risks associated with oil spills from large nontank vessels are significant, as seen during the November 7, 2007, oil spill by the containership Cosco Busan in San Francisco Bay. The Coast Guard Maritime Transportation Act of 2004 amended the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and required owners and operators of nontank vessels to prepare and submit by August 9, 2005, plans for responding to a worst case discharge and to a substantial threat of such a discharge of oil from their vessels.

The Coast Guard published a Federal Register Notice on June 23, 2008, informing nontank vessel owners and operators that the Coast Guard will begin actively enforcing the 2004 Act by screening all nontank vessels prior to their port arrival for plan submission. Each plan, among other things, ensures 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 a fire or explosion), and to mitigate or prevent a substantial threat of such a discharge. It also describes the training, equipment testing, periodic unannounced drills and response actions of the crew.

To devote resources to those nontank vessels that pose the greatest risk in the event of a worst case oil spill, the Coast Guard's screening and enforcement efforts will focus on those nontank vessels of 1,600 gross tons or greater. Nontank vessels of less than 1,600 gross tons are considered to pose less of a threat, but are still required to submit response plans. The Coast Guard will continue working with nontank vessel owners and operators to ensure vessels covered under this regulation meet the requirements.


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