The Canadian Shipowners Association has expressed concern that the vessel general permit published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month could threaten the commercial viability of its members' ships and impact the operations of the industries they serve
EPA on March 28 issued a final vessel general permit regulating discharges from commercial vessels
to replace the 2008 permit due to expire on Dec. 19, 2013.
The new vessel general permit (VGP) covers commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length, excluding military and recreational vessels.
The permit regulates 27 specific discharge categories, and EPA said it will provide improvements to the efficiency of the permit process, and clarify discharge requirements.
The agency also said it will reduce the risks of introducing invasive species, by including a more stringent numeric discharge standard limiting the release of non-indigenous invasive species in ballast water.
The permit contains additional environmental protections for the Great Lakes, which EPA said “suffered disproportionate impacts from invasive species, aligning federal standards with many Great Lakes states by requiring certain vessels to take additional precautions to reduce the risk of introducing new invasive species to U.S. waters.”
The American Waterways Operators said in its April 3 newsletter
"EPA exempted inland and seagoing vessels less than 1,600-gross-register (GRT) tons from its numeric ballast water discharge limits in the final 2013 VGP."
It said "EPA was persuaded to review its proposal in response to comments it received arguing that ballast water treatment technologies are not commercially available or economically achievable for vessels in this size class."
The waterways operators said inland and seagoing vessels less than 1,600 GRT, will have to implement mandatory best management practices for ballast water similar to those found in the current permit. As in the draft 2013 VGP, unmanned, unpowered barges and vessels engaged on short-distance voyages are also exempt. (However, AWO said the Coast Guard’s ballast water discharge standards require some seagoing vessels of less than 1,600 GRT to install ballast water treatment systems.)
The Canadian Shipowners Association said “Although the EPA has aligned its standard for international shipping with that of the United States Coast Guard, its application to Canadian domestic vessels calls into question the scientific basis for the permit.
“Canadian shipowners have a reputation for innovation and have invested over $700 million in construction of 14 new vessels with the latest in environmental technologies. Despite this investment in the protection of the marine environment, a technology that will work in the fresh and cold waters of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway does not exist. In the near-term, the only reasonable approach is to treat all domestic vessels equally in all domestic Canadian and U.S. waters out to the Canadian Exclusive Economic Zone, as the United States Coast Guard has done in its rule,” the shipowners' organization said.
"Our members have tried to find solutions to comply with a problem that has yet to be quantified clearly with science," said Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Canadian Shipowners Association. "We are calling on the government of Canada to continue working with us to develop a flexible, bi-national non-discriminatory regime that will keep ships sailing while protecting the marine environment.
He said the U.S. permit “could damage business by significantly increasing costs, negatively affecting Canadian commodity movements and Canadian vessel trading patterns, and shifting them to road and rail."
An analysis of the vessel general permit by the Chamber of Shipping of America
is posted on the BIMCO Website. - Chris Dupin