U.S.A. leading the way to prevent oil discharges from ships

June 05, 2013

Dec. 19, 2013.  If you are a ship owner trading in US waters, this date is an important one.  That is the day where the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final Vessel General Permit (VGP) will go into effect. The VGP regulates  discharges from commercial vessels in ‘US waters’. The new VGP was developed following over a year-long public comment period on EPA’s draft permit that drew more than 5,500 comments. Obviously, this new permit was taken seriously with such high input from the public and industry. 

Although the new VGP covers ballast water in great detail, the section pertaining to oil-to-sea interfaces is also very important for ship owners.  In Section 2.2.9, it states that all vessels must use an EAL in all oil to sea interfaces, unless technically infeasible. “Environmentally acceptable lubricants” means lubricants that are “biodegradable” and “minimally-toxic” and are “not bioaccumulative”. 

The EPA defines an EAL in detail, but also makes a point about using seawater as the lubricant. EPA recommends that all new build vessel operators endeavor to use seawater-based systems for their stern tube lubrication to eliminate the discharge of oil from these interfaces to the aquatic environment. 

The link to the new VGP is http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/vgp_permit2013.pdf. So when it comes to discharges from a ships propeller shaft system, the ship owner that trades in US waters has two choices for their existing ships and ships they plan to build: 1) replace mineral oil with an EAL to lubricate the metal bearings  or 2) convert the ship to a seawater-based system using non-metallic prop shaft bearings.       

This will bring many questions from ship owners regarding experience, upfront costs, maintenance costs, availability and technical equivalence. It’s a decision that will have to be made if you want to avoid the risk of being charged when trading in US Waters.

 

Craig Carter, Canada

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