Disclaimer: Staff in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Wastewater Management developed these vessel permitting frequently asked questions (FAQs) to address issues commonly raised to EPA regarding the vessel general permits. These FAQs do not substitute for permit requirements and should not be interpreted to supersede the requirements of any permit. In the event there is a perceived conflict between permit or permit fact sheet language and these FAQs, the VGP and/or VGP fact sheet govern.
- General VGP Questions
What is the Vessel General Permit (VGP)?
The VGP is a Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit that authorizes, on a nationwide basis, discharges incidental to the normal operation of non-military and non-recreational vessels greater than or equal to 79 feet in length. The 2013 VGP replaced the 2008 VGP, which expired in December 2013. The 2013 establishes requirements for 27 specific types of incidental discharges from vessels.
What changes are in the 2013 VGP?
For the first time, the 2013 VGP contains numeric ballast water discharge limits for most vessels. The 2013 VGP also contains more stringent requirements for oil-to-sea interfaces and exhaust gas scrubber washwater, which will improve environmental protection of U.S. waters. EPA has also improved the efficiency of several of the VGP’s administrative requirements, including allowing electronic recordkeeping, requiring an Annual Report in lieu of the one-time report and annual noncompliance report, and requiring small vessel owners and/or operators to obtain coverage under the VGP by completing and agreeing to the terms of a Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form.
Must vessels maintain a paper copy of the permit onboard?
No. Vessels are not required to keep a paper copy of the permit onboard the vessel; however, EPA recommends that a copy of the VGP be available onboard each vessel for reference to ensure that vessel operators are aware of all requirements. This is especially important for vessels that may operate in waters where U.S. states have provided Clean Water Act Section 401 certification conditions (see Section 6 of the VGP).
The VGP does require that certain documents including the NOI or PARI form as applicable be maintained onboard the vessel. New to the 2013 VGP is the provision that records can be retained electronically as long as they are available in a form that can be read similar to a paper record, are legally dependable, and accessible to an inspector onboard the vessel (as detailed in Part 4.2.1 of the 2013 VGP).
What is the effective date and permit term for the VGP?
The current VGP became effective on December 19, 2013 and expires on December 19, 2018.
Is a tank barge considered to be a tanker or a barge for purposes of the VGP?
The VGP has vessel class specific requirements in Part 5 of the VGP. Part 5.4 addresses barges and 5.5 addresses oil or petroleum tankers. If a vessel is a tank barge, then it must meet the requirements in Part 5.4; if a vessel, including a tank barge, is transporting oil or petroleum, then it must also comply with Part 5.5 of the VGP.
How are unmanned and/or empty barges being towed covered by the permit?
Empty or unmanned barges are typically still considered to be operating in a capacity as a means of transportation unless they have been removed from active service. Unmanned or empty barges are treated the same as any other manned or loaded barge under the general permit, and thus are eligible to obtain the required NPDES permit coverage under the VGP.
I submitted a Notice of Intent for my vessel under the 2008 VGP. Does this remain in effect for the 2013 VGP?
No. Vessels that submitted an NOI for coverage under the 2008 VGP will NOT automatically be authorized under the 2013 VGP; a new NOI for the 2013 VGP is still required.
If your vessel is greater than or equal to 300 gross tons or the vessel has the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water, you must submit a complete and accurate NOI electronically in accordance with the requirements of Part 18.104.22.168 of the 2013 VGP.
If your vessel is less than 300 gross tons and your vessel does not have the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water, you do not need to submit an NOI. However, to obtain and retain permit coverage in these instances, you must complete the Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form found in Appendix K of the 2013 VGP and keep a copy of that form onboard your vessel at all times.
Does each vessel in a fleet require its own permit coverage?
Yes, each individual vessel subject to the permit is required to comply with the limitations and requirements of the permit including inspections, recordkeeping and reporting while it operates in waters of the United States.
Our shipbuilding contract with the owner requires that we obtain U.S. government approval for pollution prevention system approvals, including those governed by the VGP. Can we send the EPA or the Coast Guard the plans for these systems for your approval?
For purposes for the VGP, EPA does not require the use of U.S. governmental approved pollution prevention systems. Thus, EPA does not require these plans be submitted to the Agency for approval.
In the situation where a barge is towed by multiple tugboat operators or fleeters from different companies, may the barge owner submit the NOI for the barge?
The NOI for the discharges from the barge must be submitted by a party with operational control over the barge. If the barge owner meets the definition of "operator" of the barge in Appendix A of the VGP, the barge owner may submit the NOI for discharges from the barge.
Under VGP Part 1.5, for vessels greater than or equal to 300 gross tons or that have the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water, the owner or operator must submit a complete and accurate NOI within specified timeframes.
Under the NPDES regulations, if a vessel is owned by one person but is operated by another, it is the operator's duty to obtain a permit. 40 CFR §122.21(b). For the purposes of the Vessel General Permit, an "operator" is any "party . . . who (1) has operational control over vessel activities, including the ability to modify those activities; or (2) has day-to-day operational control of those activities that are necessary to ensure compliance with the permit or to direct workers to carry out activities required to comply with the permit." See VGP Definitions in Appendix A.
Therefore, any entity who meets this definition may submit an NOI for their vessel. Under many circumstances, the owner maintains operational control over their vessel's activities and thus may submit the NOI. Note that in a situation where more than one party meets the definition of "operator" of the barge, only one of them need submit an NOI.
If a commercial fishing vessel of any size or other non-recreational vessel less than 79 feet in length has ballast water discharges, must an NOI be submitted?
An NOI is required for coverage under the VGP for any eligible vessel if the vessel is more than 300 gross tons or has a ballast water capacity of 8 cubic meters or more.
Additionally, pursuant to Part 1.5(f) of the sVGP, EPA authorizes vessels less than 79 feet in length to obtain coverage for ballast water discharges under the sVGP (regardless of whether those discharges were covered under the 2008 VGP). Coverage under the sVGP requires completion of a Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form in lieu of an NOI. In accordance with Part 1.6.2 of the VGP, if an operator submitted an NOI to obtain coverage under the VGP for ballast water discharges, the operator must submit a Notice of Termination (NOT) within 30 days of when coverage under the sVGP is obtained in order to be released from the requirements of the VGP. This authorization does not apply to discharges from vessels covered by any NPDES permit that has been or is in the process of being denied, terminated, or revoked by EPA or state permitting authorities.
These vessels may also seek an individual permit to obtain the necessary coverage for ballast water discharges. For more information see Part 1.8 of the VGP.
Other than for ballast water, commercial fishing vessels and other non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet in length are not required to obtain NPDES permits for any incidental discharges until December 18, 2017 consistent with the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, S. 2444.
Is there any centralized list or database of state requirements under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act?
Section 6 of the VGP provides all of the state CWA Section 401 requirements.
Section 6 of the VGP describes additional state-specific limitations and monitoring requirements that apply to vessels. Additionally, the EPA Vessel Discharge Homepage provides links to state certification letters and relevant contacts.
The VGP requires certain records to be kept “on the vessel” or, in the case of a barge, on the accompanying tug. Many companies are using electronic recordkeeping systems for Coast Guard and other recordkeeping requirements. May electronic recordkeeping systems be used to meet the recordkeeping requirement under the VGP?
EPA considers records required under Part 4.2 of the VGP that are maintained in electronic recordkeeping systems to be “written records” kept “on the vessel or accompanying tug,” for purposes of complying with the VGP in the circumstances described below.
Part 4.2 of the VGP requires that certain “written records” be kept “on the vessel or accompanying tug. Required records include: owner/vessel information; a voyage log; records of any violation of any effluent limit and corrective action taken; a record of routine inspections and any deficiencies or problems found; analytical monitoring results; a log of findings from annual inspections and any corrective actions planned or taken; a record of any specific requirements given to the vessel by EPA or state agencies; additional information on vessel maintenance and specified discharges; and a record of training completed. Part 4.2 states that “Operators may keep paper or electronic records on the vessel or accompanying tug.” Electronic recordkeeping must meet the requirements found in Part 4.2.1 of the permit.
Part 4.2 further states that “It is not the intention of this permit to require separate records for the Coast Guard and EPA. Rather, vessels can harmonize their recordkeeping practices, where appropriate, so that records are not unnecessarily duplicative. For example, information can be logged with maintenance records, the ship’s log, in existing ISM/SMS plans or recordkeeping, the oil record book, shipboard oil pollution emergency plan, or other additional recordkeeping documentation as appropriate but must be provided to EPA or its authorized representative if requested.”
Recordkeeping technology is a rapidly changing field. Many vessel operators are increasingly using electronic record keeping systems to create and maintain required records, using software, electronic forms and onboard computer terminals that collect and transmit data electronically to shoreside databases for collection and storage.
Given the foregoing, EPA considers records required under Part 4.2 of the VGP that are maintained in electronic record-keeping systems to be “written records” kept “on the vessel or accompanying tug”, for purposes of complying with the VGP, provided that the records are: in a format that can be read in a similar manner as a paper record, legally dependable with no less evidentiary value than their paper equivalent, and accessible to the inspector during an inspection to the same extent as a paper copy stored on the vessel would be, if the records were stored in paper form.
(1) Readability/Legal Dependability
EPA expects that the following features of an electronic recordkeeping system would together generally ensure that records created and/or maintained in such systems are readable and legally dependable with no less evidentiary value than their paper equivalent:
a. From the vessel or tug, and from any other point of access to the electronic recordkeeping system, electronic records, including signatures, certifications, and alterations, can be: (i) displayed to EPA, including its authorized representatives, in a format that can be read in a manner similar to a paper record and that associates data with field names or other labels that give the data contained in the record meaning and context (not solely in a computer code or data string), (ii) easily copied for EPA, including its authorized representatives, to review and access at EPA staff computers using non-proprietary software, and (iii) can easily be printed to paper form;
b. Associated metadata in their native format is preserved and available upon request;
c. Electronic records cannot be modified without detection and are preserved in a manner that cannot be altered once created. For example, any changes to an electronic record are automatically and indelibly recorded in a logically-associated (i.e., cryptographically bound) audit trail that records each change made without obscuring the data to which the modification is made or its antecedents;
d. The electronic recordkeeping system automatically identifies any person who creates, certifies, or modifies an electronic record using electronic signatures that meet the same signature, authentication, and identity-proofing standards set forth at 40 CFR § 3.2000(b) for electronic reports (including robust second-factor authentication);
e. Originals of any electronic record are immediately and automatically transferred to and held at a single location by a custodian of records who is not an author, certifier, or modifier of the electronic records. The original electronic record is secured in a fashion that protects it from tampering or destruction;
f. The electronic recordkeeping system automatically identifies: 1) the name, address, telephone number and e-mail address for the custodian of records described in “d” above; and 2) the address and owner of the location where the original electronic record is located. The electronic records and their associated metadata remain available and the discharger/permittee can demonstrate that the records have not been changed in any modification of the record-keeping system or migration to a successor record-keeping system;
g. Clear instructions guide users of the electronic record-keeping system in proper use of the system and unambiguously communicate the legal significance of using an electronic signature device; and
h. Computer systems (including hardware and software), controls, and attendant documentation that are part of the electronic record-keeping system are readily available for, and subject to, agency inspection.
EPA will generally consider electronic records to be accessible enough to be considered to be stored “on the vessel” when the vessel operator is able to, immediately, upon request, provide to government officials or authorized representatives:
a. Paper or electronic copies of requested records required to be maintained pursuant to the VGP; and
b. Electronic access, using hardware and software available on the vessel or tug, to required VGP records via electronic storage on the vessel or tug, or via direct access to an electronic system of records stored elsewhere, provided that the location of the original record is within the United States.
EPA notes that it may change this answer at any time, based upon experience with electronic recordkeeping, or any other new information or considerations.
Does the 2013 VGP require operators to submit a one-time report?
No. The 2013 VGP (Part 4.4.1 of the permit) requires owners/operators to submit an Annual Report rather than a one-time report as had been required under the 2008 permit. The first Annual Reports required under the 2013 VGP were due February 28, 2015. The 2008 VGP One-Time Reports (VOTRs) are no longer being accepted.
- Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs)
What vessels are required to use EAL lubricants?
All vessels covered under the VGP must use EALs in all oil-to-sea interfaces, unless technically infeasible. See Part 2.2.9 of the VGP, page 47.
Why are EALs required? What is the intent of the new VGP requirements?
The intent of this permit condition is to reduce the environmental impact of oily lubricant discharges on the aquatic ecosystem by increasing the use of EALs and maintaining all seals so that discharges do not result in quantities of oil that may be harmful.
The impact of lubricant discharges (not accidental spills) to the aquatic ecosystem is substantial. The majority of ocean going ships operate with oil-lubricated stern tubes and use lubricating oils in a large number of applications in on-deck and underwater (submerged) machinery. Oil leakage from stern tubes, traditionally considered a part of normal “operational consumption” of oil, results in millions of liters of oil being released to the aquatic environment every year. Where the discharge can’t be eliminated, this permit condition seeks to reduce the potential environmental impact of those discharges. Use of EALs results in discharges that biodegrade more quickly and that are less toxic than discharges from their traditional mineral oil counterparts. For all applications where lubricants are likely to enter the water, EAL formulations instead of mineral oils can offer significantly reduced environmental impacts across all applications.
What is an “EAL” and where can I find EAL products?
EALs are lubricants that are “biodegradable” and “minimally-toxic,” and are “not bioaccumulative” as defined in Appendix A of the 2013 VGP. Products meeting the permit’s definitions of an EAL include those labeled by the following voluntary labeling programs:
- Blue Angel,
- European Ecolabel,
- Nordic Swan,
- the Swedish Standards SS 155434 and 155470,
- Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) requirements, and
- EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE)
EPA does not specifically require that a lubricant have received a label from one of the programs listed. However, EPA believes that the labeling programs mentioned in the permit identify existing EALs that generally meet the VGP requirements.
EPA’s Design for the Environment Program (DfE) is in the process of launching a new initiative to label environmentally friendly lubricants to assist vessel operators in selecting more environmentally friendly products. EPA's DfE program is a voluntary labeling program that works in partnership with industry, environmental groups, and academia to reduce risk to people and the environment by finding ways to reduce or prevent pollution. More information on the DfE program may be found at http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/formulat/saferproductlabeling.htm.
In addition, some vendors have either internal self-certification or are seeking other third party certifications. Products that are not included in one of these labeling programs but have been tested to sufficiently demonstrate compliance with the EAL definition in the 2013 VGP may also be used to meet permit requirements.
What is an “oil-to-sea interface”?
Oil-to-sea interfaces include any mechanical or other equipment on board a vessel where seals or surfaces may release quantities of oil and are subject to immersion in water. The VGP specifically identifies several types of equipment that have the potential for lubrication discharges from oil-to-sea interface, including:
- Controllable Pitch Propeller,
- Paddle Wheel Propulsion,
- Stern Tubes,
- Thruster Bearings,
- Rudder Bearings,
- Azimuth Thrusters,
- Propulsion Pod Lubrication,
- Wire Rope, and
- Mechanical equipment subject to immersion (e.g., dredges, grabs, etc).
In addition, there may be other types of equipment that could be considered an oil-to-sea interface that were not specifically mentioned in the VGP.
EPA does not consider on-deck equipment that comes into contact with rain, splashed with waves, wave-generated spray, or subject to icing to be a form of immersion, and therefore, not an oil-to-sea interface. Vessel operators are not required to use EALs in on-deck machinery that is not subject to immersion. However, discharges from deck machinery are subject to other discharge requirements, such as those for Deck Washdown and Runoff (Section 2.2.1 of the VGP), which recommends the use of EALs.
For information about the influence of seal designs on the definition of oil-to-sea interfaces, see the FAQ below regarding alternative seal designs.
Under what conditions can a vessel be exempt from the use of EALs due to it being technically infeasible?
For purposes of the EAL permit condition, technically infeasible means that no EAL products are approved for use in a given application that meet manufacturer specifications for that equipment, products which come pre-lubricated (e.g., wire ropes) have no available alternatives manufactured with EALs, EAL products meeting a manufacturers specifications are not available within any port in which the vessel regularly calls, or change over and use of an EAL must wait until the vessel’s next drydocking. In other words, the use of EAL may be considered technically infeasible if no EAL products are approved for use in a given application, or products meeting a manufacturer’s specifications are not available within any port in which the vessel regularly calls.
Can I wait until the next dry docking to change to EAL?
For some vessels it is necessary to wait until their next dry docking to replace their traditional oils with EALs. In this case, use of EALs until that drydocking would not be technically feasible, but it would be technically feasible after their next drydocking.
For example, where lubricant types cannot be commingled in existing equipment or seal materials and the lubricants cannot be changed until the next drydock, it would be considered technically infeasible to use an EAL until the vessels’ next scheduled drydocking. To demonstrate that it is technically infeasible, vessel operators must document in their recordkeeping documentation why they are unable to use an EAL until the next dry docking and report the use of non-EALs in their Annual Report (see Part 2.2.9 of the VGP). The vessel would then be required to change over lubricants in the next drydocking.
How does the owner/ operator document that a vessel is using an appropriate EAL?
Information about the use of EALs should be recorded and kept in a log on the vessel, consistent with the recordkeeping requirements in Part 4 of the VGP. Vessel operators must document in their recordkeeping documentation either the EAL(s) they are using or why they are unable to use an EAL until the next dry docking and report the use of non-EALs in their Annual Report (see Part 2.2.9 of the VGP). When assessing compliance with use of EALs, EPA could require documentation that lubricants used by the vessel either meet the approved labeling requirements or have undergone and met the requirements through independent testing. This could include material safety data sheets (MSDSs) or other technical data sheets provided by the vendor that clearly document results of such labeling or testing. It is up to the vessel owner/operators to demonstrate compliance with this provision.
How do owners/ operators document that a vessel it is technically infeasible to use EAL?
As required in Part 2.2.9 of the VGP, if a vessel operators believes that one of the conditions for technical infeasibility apply for their vessel, for example needing to wait until the next drydocking to change to an EAL, vessel operators must document in their recordkeeping documentation why they are unable to use an EAL until the next dry docking. Additionally, they must report the use of a non-environmentally acceptable lubricant to EPA in their Annual Report. The vessel would then be required to change over lubricants in the next drydocking.
The information to be documented is intended to be simple, basic, and straightforward. A vessel owner/operator need only keep one brief record of their determination that use of EALs is technically infeasible. A general statement from makers of seals can be included as sufficient documentation. Technical infeasibility may also be determined if a class society determines EALs are not appropriate for a particular use or the vendor has not specified that EALs are appropriate for that piece of equipment.
Can alternative seal systems (e.g., “air seals” or void space double seals) be used in lieu of EALs?
[Updated April 22, 2015] The answer hinges on whether, with the installation of an alternative seal design, the stern tube or other equipment ceases being an oil-to-sea interface.
A typical air seal or void space seal functions by having at least two independent sealing systems: one on the side of the seal facing oil, and one on the side of the seal facing water. An air chamber or void space in between these two seals creates a controlled "buffer zone" where any oil, lubricants, or water is collected for reuse or treatment. These seal designs, when properly maintained and operated, may completely eliminate oil drips or leakage into surrounding waters.
A stern tube seal using an alternative design that can fully eliminate the oily discharge would be much like a seawater lubricated stern tube in terms of having no potential for oily discharge, and use of an EAL would not be required.
Please note: EPA cannot provide any type approval or "clean" endorsement that an alternative seal system would eliminate the discharge.
What happens if a vessel uses non-EALs in an "air seal" or other interface that is not expected to discharge, and there is a leak or other type of discharge of oil?
[Added April 22, 2015] In this instance, the resulting discharge of a non-EAL lubricant must be documented as noncompliance consistent with item 3 in Part 4.2 (Recordkeeping) of the VGP and reported as such in the Annual Report.
If such a discharge occurs due to an exceptional incident, that discharge may be considered an "upset" consistent with 40 CFR section 122.41(n), as referenced in Part 1.13 of the VGP. An upset (i.e., an exceptional incident in which there is unintentional and temporary noncompliance with technology-based effluent limits because of factors beyond the permittee's reasonable control) can be used as an affirmative defense in actions brought against the permittee for noncompliance. An upset does not include noncompliance to the extent caused by operational error, improperly designed or inadequate treatment facilities, lack of preventative maintenance, or careless or improper operation. The permittee (who has the burden of proof to demonstrate that an upset has occurred) must have operational logs or other evidence that shows:
- When the upset occurred and its causes;
- The facility was being operated properly;
- Proper notification was made; and
- Remedial measures were taken.
With respect to "proper notification" of an upset of an oil-to-sea interface, the notification requirement described in Part 4.4.3 of the permit is considered sufficient.
Is there any distinction between New Ship and Existing Ship when applying EALs in the VGP?
Generally no, all vessels covered under the VGP must use EALs in all oil-to-sea interfaces unless technically infeasible as required by Part 2.2.9 of the VGP; however, the initial implementation of the requirement may differ for new and existing vessels.
EPA has found that EALs are available and their use is economically achievable. Many existing vessels can use EALs which are compatible with their existing equipment. However, it might not be technically feasible for some existing vessels to use EALs with all existing equipment. For these vessels, EPA does not require the vessels to install wholly new equipment so that they can use these more environmentally friendly lubricants. However, if the mere maintenance of existing equipment is required before installing EALs (e.g., upgrade sealing rings, change to a new or different compatible seal at a regular scheduled 5 year increment), then use of the EAL would be technically feasible after the vessel would complete the routine maintenance.
EPA believes the use of EALs for new build vessels is less likely to be technically infeasible since new build vessels can select equipment during design and construction which is compatible with EALs. Seawater based systems or other alternatives are recommended for consideration in newly constructed vessels, but are not required.
Is a sheen left on the water by an EAL acceptable, provided the EAL is biodegradable, non-toxic, and not bioaccumulative, as defined in the VGP?
The use of an EAL, regardless of the application, does not authorize the discharge of any lubricant in a quantity that may be harmful as defined in 40 CFR Part 110 as these oils still cause many undesirable environmental impacts, though these impacts are potentially less severe than those caused from petroleum based oils. For purposes of section 311(b)(4) of the Act, discharges of oil in such quantities that the Administrator has determined may be harmful to the public health or welfare or the environment of the United States include discharges of oil that (a) Violate applicable water quality standards; or (b) Cause a film or sheen upon or discoloration of the surface of the water or adjoining shorelines or cause a sludge or emulsion to be deposited beneath the surface of the water or upon adjoining shorelines (see 40 CFR Part 110.3). However, under certain circumstances and on a case-by-case basis as appropriate, EPA and/or USCG authorities may consider whether a vessel used an EAL in their enforcement response.
If the contracted supplier does not currently have a range of EALs, is it possible to use non-EAL lubricants even if other suppliers can supply locally available EALs that meet the equipment specifications?
No. In this case, an EAL would be considered to be available from a different product supplier, and assuming its use is technically feasible, you would be expected to use it.
If an equipment manufacturer indicates that the working life of a conventional seal is reduced when used with EALs, is it possible to use a non-EAL lubricant based on technical infeasibility?
Generally, no. Although EPA does not require vessels to install wholly new equipment, the mere maintenance of existing equipment (e.g., changing out conventional seals for compatible seals during scheduled maintenance) in order to use EALs does not constitute technical infeasibility. However, if there is not an available EAL that is approved for a given piece of existing equipment, its use would not be technically feasible and would not be required. Additionally, if the working life is reduced such that the product will not last until the vessels next drydocking, then EAL use may be technically infeasible.
- Sampling and Monitoring for the 2013 VG
The 2013 VGP contains new analytical monitoring requirements for certain discharges. What discharges need to be sampled? Do all vessels have to sample their discharges?
The 2013 VGP requires targeted sampling and analytical monitoring for a subset of vessels covered by the permit. See table below for specific discharge requirements.
- Bilgewater discharges must be monitored for any vessel constructed on or after December 19, 2013 and greater than 400 gross tons that discharge bilgewater to waters of the United States (see Part 22.214.171.124 of the VGP).
- Graywater discharge must be monitored for any vessel discharging graywater to waters of the United States constructed on or after December 19, 2013, having a maximum crew capacity of at least 15 crew, and providing overnight accommodation to those crew, and vessels that are not “commercial vessels” discharging graywater operating on the Great Lakes (see Part 126.96.36.199 of the VGP).
- Ballast water discharges must be monitored on vessels using a ballast water treatment system to achieve the numeric discharge limitations at Part 188.8.131.52 of the 2013 VGP that discharge ballast water to waters of the United States (see Part 184.108.40.206.1.1 of the VGP).
- Exhaust gas scrubber discharges must be monitored on any vessels discharging exhaust gas scrubber washwater to waters of the United States (see Part 220.127.116.11 of the VGP).
Discharge Section of VGP Applicable Vessels Frequency Analytes Bilgewater 18.104.22.168 New Build > 400 gross tons that discharge bilgewater into U.S. waters 1 per yr. (waiver qualifications after 2 yr.) Oil in water OCM reading Ballast Water 22.214.171.124.1.1 All Vessels using a ballast water treatment system once they use that system 1 per mo. Equipment performance 1 to 4 per yr., dependent on type of system, see 126.96.36.199.1.1.4 Biological indicators BWTS that use active substances/ Biocides 3 to 5 times during first 10 discharges, 2 to 4 times per yr. dependent on type of system, see 188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206 biocides and residuals of treatment Graywater 220.127.116.11 New Build vessels with crew capacity ≥ 15 and overnight accommodations; or vessels operating on the Great Lakes that are nto "commercial vessels" within the meaning of CWA section 312. Only appliciable if discharging graywater into U.S. waters 2 per yr. biocides and residuals of treatment Exhaust Gas Scrubber Washwater Discharge 18.104.22.168 All vessels with wet exhaust gas scrubber systems which discharge into U.S. waters 2 for first yr., 1 per yr. thereafter Dissolved and total metals, PAH, nitrates-nitrite, pH
What volume of water is required for analytical sampling?
The amount of water required for the analytical monitoring requirements will vary depending on the test being run and the discharge being sampled, but generally should be less than a few liters per sample. For general instructions on how to sample, see Vessel Discharge Sample Collection and Analytical Monitoring: A How-To Reference for EPA’s 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP) posted on the VGP website. Owners/operators should consult with any contracted laboratories to confirm logistics and obtain information about how to appropriately collect samples.
How do I find an analytical laboratory?
Finding the right analytical laboratory is similar to finding any other specialty service contractor. Most commercial laboratories have websites that list their services and can be found through internet searches or word of mouth.
The following website also maintains a list of laboratories:
TNI LAMS Search
Note that EPA does not endorse these laboratories, but is providing this information as a resource.
Questions to ask when contacting potential laborites along with a list of things to consider when conducing analytical monitoring can be found in the Vessel Discharge Sample Collection and Analytical Monitoring: A How-To Reference for EPA’s 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP) posted on the VGP website.
Does analytical monitoring required in the VGP need to be done by an approved lab?
For purposes of this permit, analytical monitoring does not need to be conducted by an approved lab, but all monitoring does need to be conducted using an EPA approved method or a method specifically referenced in the permit. EPA allowed this flexibility in the VGP to accommodate vessels engaged in international voyages which rarely frequent U.S. waters or vessels which test to see if their systems meet certain standards before entering waters of the U.S.
If a vessel is generally operated outside of U.S. Waters and only visits the U.S. perhaps once per year, is the vessel required to follow all VGP Inspections, Monitoring, Reporting, and Recordkeeping requirements?
The VGP’s inspections and monitoring requirements do not “apply worldwide.” Once vessels enter waters subject to this permit, they must be in compliance with the permit’s requirements before those discharges that apply occur in waters of the U.S. (which in most cases will be at the moment they enter waters subject to the permit, because many discharges occur continuously during vessel operation). The permit’s periodic inspection and monitoring requirements are conditions that are a prerequisite to discharge into waters of the U.S. For example, a vessel transiting in and out of waters of the U.S. would be in compliance with a weekly inspection requirement if the vessel had conducted a compliant inspection in the week prior to discharging into waters subject to the VGP. The VGP does not require that the weekly inspection have occurred, for example, two, three, or four weeks prior to the discharge into waters subject to the permit. EPA’s intent is the same for other periodic inspection requirements. For example, quarterly sampling must have occurred sometime in the quarter prior to discharge into waters subject to the permit and annual inspections must have occurred within a year prior to discharge into waters subject to the permit. Inspections and recordkeeping are directly related to ensuring that the vessel is in compliance with the permit prior to discharging into waters subject to the permit.
Are vessels required to conduct discharge sampling if the vessels does not discharge in waters subject to the VGP?
No. If the vessel does not discharge in waters subject to the VGP, then the discharge requirement or any monitoring associated with those discharges would not apply. For example, if a vessel does not discharge bilgewater in waters of the U.S., monitoring provisions for bilgewater would not apply. If that same vessel discharges ballast water to waters of the U.S., and meets other requirements triggering ballast water monitoring, the ballast water monitoring requirements would apply. Also, a vessel owner/operator will need to indicate in their Annual Report that they are not discharging the particular waste stream while in waters subject to the VGP.
Our vessels conduct mid-ocean transfers of ballast water before entering the United States. Will I need to still have the ballast sampled?
Generally, no. The sampling requirements for ballast water are applicable once a vessel uses a ballast water treatment system to meet the numeric discharge standards. The only exception is for certain vessels entering the Great Lakes subject to Part 22.214.171.124 of the permit.
I have installed a BWTS in anticipation of the numeric limits. Do I need to sample ballast water before the VGP mandates treatment is applicable to my vessel?
Regarding monitoring, if a vessel is utilizing the ballast water treatment system to meet the numeric limits in Part 126.96.36.199 of the permit, then they need to conduct the monitoring required by the VGP (even if the system is being used before the numeric limits that mandate treatment are applicable to the vessel). See Part 188.8.131.52.1.1.1 of the permit which states that the monitoring requirements "apply to ballast water discharges from vessels employing ballast water treatment systems that are used to achieve the effluent limitations of Part 184.108.40.206." Since the vessel would be using the system to meet the effluent limits in Part 220.127.116.11, instead of those in Part 18.104.22.168, the monitoring requirements are required to provide EPA (and the operator) with information that the systems are functioning as designed.
- Discharge Requirements in the 2013 VGP
What is the definition of phosphate free soaps, cleaners, and detergents for purposes of the VGP?
Phosphate free soaps, cleaners, and detergents, are defined in Appendix A of the Permit. Phosphate free is defined as materials which contain, by weight, 0.5% or less of phosphates or derivatives of phosphates.
"Phosphate free" refers to any cleaning product that is not formulated with phosphorous containing compounds, which would readily be converted to phosphate in the aquatic environment, as an intentional part of the product formulation. EPA considers "readily be converted to phosphate" to be products that break down through simple hydrolysis or oxidation reactions. EPA considers the term "phosphate" to encompass phosphoric acid, phosphonates, organophosphates, any salt of a hydrogen phosphate, and any salt of phosphate. "Derivatives of phosphate" include polyphosphates, such as sodium tripolyphosphate (Na5P3O10), pyrophosphate and phosphorus oxoacids.
For purposes of this permit, cleaning products that contain such phosphorous containing compounds as an unintentional consequence of manufacturing (i.e., do not exceed 0.5% of the content of the product by weight) are considered phosphate free.
Is a diving inspection required to determine whether there are living organisms on a vessel's hull? How does EPA suggest making such a determination without a diving inspection?
A diving inspection is not required by the VGP. As explained in section 6.1 of the VGP Fact Sheet, the permit requires self-inspections for the visible portion of the hull (e.g., those portions that are visible from above the waterline or those portions which are visible when the vessel is in reasonably clear water) for the presence of attached living organisms. However, in accordance with VGP Part 4.1.3 vessel owner/operators must document which portions of the vessel are not inspectable for the annual inspection in their recordkeeping documentation. In addition, as stated in Part 4.1.3 of the VGP, if any of portions of the vessel hull are not inspectable without the vessel entering drydock, the vessel owner/operator must inspect those areas during their drydock inspection and their results must be documented in their drydock inspection report
What is the definition of tributyltin (TBT) or other organotin compound for purposes of this permit?
Tributyltin is a toxic organometallic compound which was previously registered for use as a biocide in antifouling paints applied to vessel hulls and other underwater parts of ships and boats. Organotins are the larger family of organometallic compounds to which tributyltin belongs. As used in the text of this permit, when EPA is referring to "organotins," the Agency is referring to these compounds in their capacity as biocides. In the United States and many other countries, the use of antifouling paints containing tributyltin has been phased-out due to concerns about its environmental impacts. For purposes of this permit, EPA has prohibited the use of antifouling paints containing TBT or any other organotin compounds as a biocide. In cases where TBT antifouling coatings have been applied to a ship, all residual TBT must be removed from immersed surfaces or a sealer-coat must be applied to prevent any residual TBT leaching into the environment. EPA is unaware of any non-biocidal use of TBT which would result in a residual presence in antifouling paints; hence, EPA reaffirms that there must be zero discharge of TBT from vessel hulls.
Other less toxic organotins such as dibutyltin are used in very small quantities as catalysts in biocide-free coatings that can be applied to immersed areas of ships to control fouling. Biocide-free coatings create a slick surface to which fouling organisms cannot firmly attach. To function properly, the coating surface must remain smooth and intact, and not leach into the surrounding water. Because these less toxic organotins are used as a catalyst in the production of biocide free coatings, such production may result in trace amounts of organotin in anti-foulant coatings. EPA interprets the provisions of Part 2.2.4 of the VGP which apply to TBT "or any other organotin compound" to authorize the use of non-biocidal coatings which contain these trace amounts of catalytic organotin (other than TBT) under the following conditions:
- The trace amounts of organotin are not used as a biocide. On a practical level, when used as a catalyst, an organotin compound should not be present above 2500 mg total tin per kilogram of dry paint.
- The coating is not designed to slough or otherwise peel from the vessel hull. Incidental amounts of coating may be released by abrasion during cleaning or after contact with other hard surfaces (e.g., moorings).
Section 5.4.1 of EPA's Vessel General Permit (VGP) provides that "[i]f a visible sheen is noted," vessel operators must undertake certain corrective action and recordkeeping. The permit further defines "visible sheen" to include "visual color." Would identification of color on the water that did not originate from an oily discharge (e.g., discoloration caused by colored dust) trigger the corrective action and recordkeeping requirements of §5.4.1?
The visible sheen provision in VGP § 5.4.1 applies only in the context of discharges of "oil" and/or "oily mixtures" as defined in Appendix A. Therefore, identification of color on the water that did not originate from an oily discharge would not trigger the corrective action and recordkeeping requirements of §5.4.1. The provision in question is contained in the first paragraph of VGP section 5.4.1, which reads as follows: "Barges must minimize the contact of below deck condensation with oily or toxic materials, and any materials containing hydrocarbon. Whenever barges are pumping water from below deck, the discharge shall not contain oil in quantities that may be harmful as defined in 40 CFR Part 110. If a visible sheen is noted, vessel operators must initiate corrective action in accordance with Part 3 and meet recordkeeping requirements in Part 4.2 of this permit." VGP § 5.4.1 prohibits discharges that contain oil in quantities that may be harmful as defined in 40 CFR Part 110, which uses, in part, a "sheen" test for that purpose. 40 CFR 110.3(b) (stating that "discharges of oil in … quantities that . . . may be harmful" includes discharges that "cause a film or sheen upon or discoloration of the surface of the water. . ." ; see also, 40 CFR 110.1 (defining sheen as "an iridescent appearance on the surface of water"). Apart from using the "sheen" term in the specific context of oily discharges, the VGP also expressly states in VGP § 5.4.2 that "[t]he visual sheen test is used to detect free oil by observing the surface of the receiving water for the presence of an oily sheen." The term "visible sheen" is further defined in Appendix A consistent with methods used under the effluent guideline program for determining the presence of free oil. 40 CFR Part 435, Appendix 1 to Subpart A at § 8.6; see, 58 Fed. Reg. 12507 (March 4, 1993). Finally, the accompanying Fact Sheet for the VGP makes clear that the visible sheen test "was chosen as an approach to determine whether oil is being discharged in quantities that may be harmful, because the visible sheen test is easy to use and is consistent with existing CWA requirements." (VGP Fact Sheet § 22.214.171.124)
If a vessel is engaged in a Pacific Nearshore voyage, yet does not travel farther than 50 nautical miles from waters subject to the VGP in its voyage, must it still exchange ballast water?
In general, such vessels would not need to exchange ballast water if they do not travel farther than 50 nautical miles from waters subject to the VGP (See Part 126.96.36.199.2 of the VGP). However, Section 6 of the VGP contains additional requirements for certain state waters with respect to ballast water discharge which may require exchange, even if a vessel does not travel 50 nm from shore.
Are crude oil tankers engaged in the coastwise trade (including those to and from Alaska) subject to the VGP's ballast water requirements?
Yes, such vessels are subject to the ballast water requirements contained in VGP Part 2.2.3 as well as any additional exchange or flushing requirements for coastwise voyages resulting from State 401 certification conditions contained in Part 6 of the VGP. Unlike section 1101(c)(2)(L) of the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act, as amended, there is no Clean Water Act exemption for crude oil tankers engaged in coastwise trade.
When filling out Ballast Water Reporting Forms, does the VGP require that saltwater flushing be noted on the form, or is maintaining flushing records onboard sufficient?
Those vessels that conduct saltwater flushing as required by Part 188.8.131.52.3 (ocean going voyages) and Part 184.108.40.206.4 (Pacific nearshore voyages) of the permit must note that fact on the Ballast Water Reporting Form, which is found in the Appendix to 33 CFR Part 151, Subpart D. On the form, saltwater flushing should be indicated by checking off the "Underwent Alternative Management" box and indicating that the vessel conducted saltwater flushing in the "specify alternative method" line, and by filling out Section 5, Ballast Water History. The information must be kept on board the vessel to meet the requirements of this permit, and must be submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard where required under Coast Guard regulations.
See Section 4.3 of the VGP for more information.
- Notice of Intent (NOI) and Notice of Termination (NOT) Requirements for the 2013 VGP
Who must submit an NOI for coverage under the 2013 VGP?
If a vessel is greater than or equal to 300 gross tons or the vessel has the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water and the vessel discharges in waters of the United States, the owner/operator of that vessel must submit a complete and accurate NOI in accordance with the requirements of Part 220.127.116.11 of the 2013 VGP. Permit coverage will take effect seven days after electronic submission of that NOI (or 30 days after if you submit a paper NOI based on EPA having granted you a waiver from using the electronic NOI system consistent with Part 1.14 of the 2013 VGP). For vessels covered under the 2008 VGP that wanted to continue coverage under the 2013 without interruption, NOIs were due on or before December 12, 2013 (i.e., seven days before the effective date of the permit) or November 19, 2013 (i.e., 30 days before if you have been granted a waiver from using the electronic system). Please be aware that vessels that submitted an NOI for coverage under the 2008 VGP will NOT automatically be authorized under the 2013 VGP; a new NOI for the 2013 VGP is required.
If your vessel is fewer than 300 gross tons and your vessel does not have the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water, you do not need to submit an NOI. However, to obtain and retain permit coverage in these instances, you must complete the Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form (PDF) (1 pg, 106 K, About PDF) found in Appendix K of the 2013 VGP and keep a copy of that form onboard your vessel at all times.
Will I receive acknowledgment that my NOI was received and granted?
If the NOI is submitted electronically, the system will provide an e-mail confirmation to the certifying official that the NOI was received and that discharges are authorized under the permit beginning seven days after EPA’s receipt of the certified NOI unless EPA notifies the certifying official otherwise and in writing.
If the NOI is submitted in paper form, EPA will not provide confirmation of receipt. EPA will only provide a notification of whether coverage has been authorized or if further review is required.
For what reason should an owner/operator submit a modification to a previously submitted NOI?
Vessel owner/operators that have submitted an NOI should submit a revised NOI to correct any mistakes made in an NOI as well as for any of the following changes: the vessel name, U.S. Coast Guard vessel identification number, vessel call sign, flag state, or port of registry.
If the vessel owner/operator changes, then the new owner/operator is required to submit a new NOI as described above on the Transfer of Ownership discussion.
Who must submit a Notice of Termination (NOT) under the 2013 VGP?
Any owner/operator who was required to submit an NOI (see above) is required to submit an NOT to terminate coverage under the 2013 VGP within 30 days after one or more of the following three conditions (as described in Part 18.104.22.168 of the 2013 VGP):
- A new owner/operator has taken over responsibility for the vessel (i.e., you are no longer an owner/operator of that vessel),
- You have permanently ceased operating the vessel in waters subject to this permit and there are no longer vessel discharges incidental to the normal operation of the vessel in such waters, or
- You have obtained coverage under an individual permit or alternative general permit for all discharges required to be covered by an NPDES permit.
Who is required to sign and certify NOIs and other VGP reports?
As referenced in Part 4.2 of the 2013 VGP, Federal regulations, at 40 CFR 122.22, establish requirements for who is to sign and certify required reports. Consistent with those regulations, a responsible corporate officer (of a corporation), a principle executive or ranking elected official (for a public agency), or a general partner or the proprietor (for a partnership or sole proprietorship) must sign and certify any NOI form. If you are the certifying official who will be signing an NOI but you do not have an eNOI account, you must register to access the eNOI system through EPA’s Central Data Exchange (CDX) interface. Other reports required by the VGP (e.g., the NOT and Annual Reports) must be signed by either a certifying official (as described above) or by a duly authorized representative of that person. In these instances, the authorization must be made in writing by the certifying official and must identify the duly authorized representative either by name or by a position having responsibility for the overall operation of the regulated activities. This written authorization must be retained, either electronically or in paper form, on the vessel, or for barges, on the accompanying tug, but does not have to be submitted to EPA.
What must be submitted to EPA for a vessel transfer of ownership under the VGP?
If the owner/operator of a vessel changes, the new owner/operator must file a new Notice of Intent (NOI) for the vessel to retain permit coverage for that vessel (i.e., to transfer ownership). To ensure uninterrupted permit coverage, the new NOI documenting the transfer should be submitted by the new owner/operator prior to the previous owner/operator terminating the existing NOI for that vessel. Owner/operators can transfer permit coverage using EPA’s 2013 VGP eNOI System and answering “yes” to the question in the system asking if this NOI is for a transfer of ownership and then completing the rest of the NOI with the new owner/operator information.
- General sVGP Questions
What is the Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP) and is it currently in effect?
The EPA sVGP, effective between December 19, 2014 and December 18, 2019, authorizes discharges incidental to the normal operation of non-military and non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet in length, including commercial fishing vessels. Legislation enacted after issuance of the 2014 sVGP (Senate bill S.2444 , P.L. 113-281) exempts all incidental discharges, with the exception of ballast water, from these vessels from having to obtain a Clean Water Act permit until December 18, 2017. As such, until that time, the sVGP requirements only apply to discharges of ballast water from non-military and non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet in length, including commercial fishing vessels.
Are the VGP and sVGP significantly different?
Yes. EPA recognizes that small commercial vessels are substantially different in how they operate than their larger counterparts, and as such, the sVGP is shorter and simpler. The permit specifies best management practices for several broad discharge management categories including fuel management, engine and oil control, solid and liquid maintenance, graywater management, fish hold effluent management, and ballast water management. Unlike the VGP, the sVGP does not contain Notice of Intent (NOI) or Annual Report requirements.