USA – California’s Ballast Water Management Regulations 2017 and Fines

13 February 2018

Members will be aware from the London Club Circulars of January 2017 and July 2017 that the United States is not a party to the IMO’s Ballast Water Management Regulations and has introduced its own legislation, with California State developing even stricter requirements.

Vessels arriving at ports in California from outside of the Pacific Coast Region intending to de-ballast in California waters are currently required to conduct any ballast exchanges in open seas. The Pacific Coast Region (“PCR”) is defined in California legislation as east of 154 degrees West longtitude and north of 25 degrees North latitude. Open seas is defined as at least 200nm from the nearest land and in minimum 2,000m of water depth. Vessels whose voyages begin within the PCR and which intend to de-ballast in California waters must conduct a ballast water exchange at least 50nm from the nearest land and in minimum 200m of water depth. A simple chart of the PCR and 200nm/50nm from land can be accessed by clicking here

Californian legislation now applies maximum fines of USD27,500 per tank where no ballast exchange has been made and between USD5,000 and USD20,000 per tank where there was an exchange within the zones of 200nm and 50nm from land, depending upon how close to land it occurred. Falsification of records and reports is also punishable by up to one year in jail.

The fines are imposed by the Californian State Lands Commission (CSLC), rather than the Coast Guard. Early experience of the activities of the CSLC points to very thorough investigations being made on board. The location where each ballast tank exchange took place is plotted precisely and substantial fines are imposed for any errors. As the fines are applied on a per tank basis, the sums can soon mount up.

In the most prominent example seen by the Managers, a vessel on a great circle route across the Pacific carried out a ballast water exchange mid-ocean and mid-voyage, but inadvertently within 200nm of the Aleutian Islands. While the authorities determined the ballast water after the exchange was free of invasive species which could be discharged within California waters, the mistake was innocent and a first time offence, the CSLC nevertheless sought to impose fines exceeding USD100,000. The fine was reduced by only 30% on appeal.

Members whose vessels are scheduled to call at Californian ports should note the above and take care in planning where a ballast water exchange is to be conducted. In particular, consideration should be given to the time needed to complete the exchange, the water depth, and weather, to ensure that such exchanges are completed well outside 200nm not just from California waters or the PCR but from any land, so as to avoid the risk of being having fines imposed and potentially being detained.