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Vessel Discharges
Frequently Asked Questions

The following is a list of Frequently Asked Questions for Vessel Discharges organized from general questions about the NPDES Program to more technical questions about Vessel Discharges. Click here to search for other program-specific FAQs or to display a list of all NPDES FAQs. Please check back periodically for updates!


Does each vessel in a fleet require its own coverage under the general permit?

Yes, each individual vessel is required to comply with the limitations and requirements of the permit including inspections, recordkeeping and reporting.

Discussion

The Clean Water Act and NPDES regulations generally require that each point source, e.g. vessel, seeking to discharge pollutants to the waters of the US must obtain a permit under the NPDES program and be compliant with those limitations and requirements. The VGP represents the most expeditious process by which a vessel can obtain this coverage. Any vessel that meets the conditions requiring submission of an NOI must file its own NOI for seeking coverage under the general permit.

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Must vessels maintain a physical copy of the permit onboard?

No. Vessels are not required to keep a physical copy of the permit onboard the vessel. The VGP does require that certain documents including the NOI (if an NOI is required) be maintained onboard the vessel.

Discussion

The VGP is a general permit issued under the NPDES program by EPA and each vessel does not receive an individualized copy of a permit; therefore a physical copy of the permit is not required to be maintained on the vessel. While there is not a individual permit document with limitations that is issued to the vessel, EPA recommends that a copy of the VGP be maintained onboard each vessel for reference to ensure that all requirements are complied with by the vessel. This is especially important for vessels that may operate in waters where states have provided 401 certification conditions (see Section 6 of the VGP).

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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.

Discussion

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 choose how these records will be maintained, but must retain these records on the vessel for a period of 3 years.”

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, 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:

  1. 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;
  2. Associated metadata in their native format is preserved and available upon request;
  3. 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;
  4. 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 C.F.R. § 3.2000(b) for electronic reports (including robust second-factor authentication);
  5. 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;
  6. The electronic recordkeeping system automatically identifies: 1) the name, address, telephone number and email 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;
  7. 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
  8. 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.

(2) Accessibility

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:

  1. Paper or electronic copies of requested records required to be maintained pursuant to the VGP; and
  2. 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.

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How long does the VGP last (e.g. when must it be reissued)?

The VGP was issued on December 19, 2008 and expires on December 19, 2013.

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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 Part 7 of the VGP, the barge owner may submit the NOI for discharges from the barge.

Discussion

Under VGP §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 (2113 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 C.F.R. §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." VGP Part 7.

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.

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Is there a mechanism for batch submission of multiple NOIs?

Yes. EPA's Electronic Notice of Intent (eNOI) system has a batch submission process. Instructions can be found on the website and technical support is available.

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Is there a mechanism for others (e.g., a ship's agent) to prepare NOIs on behalf of vessel owner/operators?

Yes. EPA's Electronic Notice of Intent (eNOI) system allows an NOI form to be created by one entity and be certified by the operator separately. Instructions are available on the website and technical support is available.

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How long does it take for EPA to process the NOI once it is submitted and for the vessel to receive coverage under the VGP?

If the NOI is submitted electronically, EPA requires at least 30 days to process a complete and accurate NOI submittal and allow coverage under the VGP for vessels which have not previously been covered under the VGP. EPA may require additional time dependent upon the information submitted with the NOI. Paper submission of NOIs can take approximately 60 days to process.

Discussion

Vessels must have coverage before discharging into water covered by the permit and Part 1.5 of the VGP provides the timeframes for submitting the NOI. The minimum 30 day period allows EPA to examine the information submitted with the NOI and determine whether coverage under the VGP is appropriate or whether an individual permit should be required for the vessel. EPA encourages vessels to submit an NOI as soon as possible but no later than 30 days prior to entry into waters covered by the permit to minimize any chance that coverage would not be granted before arrival. An NOI is effective until permit expiration and EPA encourages vessels that potentially might seek entry into waters covered by the permit before December 19, 2013 to apply now.

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Is a written document provided to confirm receipt of the NOI and whether coverage has been granted?

If the NOI is submitted electronically, the system will provide an e-mail confirmation to the certifying official that the NOI was received. EPA will provide separate notification within 30 days whether coverage has been granted or if further review is required. The status of a pending NOI will also be available through the on-line NOI submission system.

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 granted or if further review is required.

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If a vessel is a commercial fishing vessel of any size or other non-recreational vessel less than 79 feet in length and has ballast water discharges, must an NOI be submitted?

Per the terms of the VGP, if the vessel has a ballast water capacity of 8 cubic meters, an NOI must be submitted for the ballast water discharge only. These vessels may also seek an individual permit to obtain the necessary coverage. For more information see Part 2.5 of the VGP Fact Sheet.

Discussion

On July 30, 2010, President Obama signed P.L.111-215 (Senate Bill S. 3372) into law. This law amends P.L. 110-299 (Senate Bill S. 3298), which generally imposes a moratorium during which time neither EPA nor states may require NPDES permits for discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial fishing vessels of any size and other non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet. As a result of P.L. 110-299, the VGP does not cover vessels less than 79 feet or commercial fishing vessels, unless they have ballast water discharges. P.L. 111-215 extended the expiration date of the moratorium from July 31, 2010 to December 18, 2013.

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Is a Notice of Termination (NOT) required for vessels not required to submit a NOI?

No. If the operator is not required to submit a NOI for the vessel, then there is also no requirement to submit a NOT when ceasing coverage under the permit. See Part 3.8.2.2 of the VGP Fact Sheet for more information.

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Is a Notice of Termination (NOT) required when the vessel leaves the waters of the United States?

No. The vessel does not need to submit a NOT upon leaving U.S. waters, nor does a previously covered vessel need to submit a new NOI prior to re-entering U.S. waters. See Part 3.8.2.1 of the VGP Fact Sheet for more information.

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Will any NOI filings under this permit be accessible to the public?

All NOIs are available for public review through posting on the internet. The link to the website follows:

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Is there any centralized list or database of state requirements under Section 401?

Section 6 of the VGP provides the state requirements.

Discussion

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.

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For purposes of VGP section 4.1.1, what constitutes a voyage?

For the purposes of VGP section 4.1.1 (including its routine visual inspection provisions), a voyage is generally considered to begin when the vessel departs a dock or other location at which it has loaded or unloaded (in whole or in part) cargo or passengers, and to end after it has tied-up at another dock or location in order to again conduct such activities. For example, for a barge on the Mississippi River, such voyage would begin when it departs a location at which it has cargo loaded onto it and end when cargo is unloaded at another location.

For vessels such as mobile oil and gas rigs, which are in a mode of transportation only when relocating between drill sites, a voyage for purposes of VGP section 4.1.1 is generally considered to begin when the rig departs one site and to end when it arrives at the new site to commence operations which are not transportation-oriented, such as drilling.

For vessels such as harbor tugs, which may be in semi-continuous operation for up to a week within the same harbor and do not carry passengers or cargo, for purposes of VGP section 4.1.1, a voyage is generally considered to begin when the crew or master take charge of the vessel and to end when that crew or master are replaced by another crew or master, at which point a new voyage would begin due to the arrival of the new crew or master. For example, if crew changes occur every seven days on a harbor tug, the voyage begins with crew arrival, ends on day seven with departure of that crew, and a new voyage begins on day seven with arrival of the new crew. A routine visual inspection thus would be necessary during the tenure of the initial crew and also during tenure of the new crew.

Discussion
Section 4.1.1 of EPA’s Vessel General Permit (VGP) provides that at least once per week or once per "voyage," whichever is more frequent (but not more than once per day), permittees must conduct a visual inspection of safely accessible deck and cargo areas and all accessible areas where chemicals, oils, dry cargo or other materials are stored, mixed, and used, as well as verifying that monitoring, training, and inspections are logged according to VGP requirements. The routine visual inspections under this VGP section were intended to be measures of good marine practice that the prudent mariner is already employing to ensure vessel, crew, and environmental health and safety (see VGP Fact Sheet section 6.1).

The term "voyage" is not defined in the VGP, nor does it have a single clearly understood meaning in the maritime context (see generally, discussion of maritime law "voyage" definitions at http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/V/Voyage.aspx). In general usage, the term voyage involves a trip by water of some duration (see, Webster's NewWorld College Dictionary (4th Ed.), defining "voyage" as "a relatively long journey or passage by water or, formerly, by land"). The lack of a clear commonly-understood definition has resulted in questions as to how VGP section 4.1.1 (which uses the term "voyage" as a trigger for some of its requirements) is to be interpreted.

The answer above interprets the term "voyage" for purposes of VGP section 4.1.1 in order to provide clarity as to when its obligations are triggered. For each situation addressed in the above answer, the analysis began with the general understanding of the term voyage to mean a trip by water of some duration, and for the need to provide easily recognizable discrete beginning and end points so as to clarify what constitutes a "voyage." The answer provided was developed taking into account a variety of underlying vessel usages and the underlying purpose of the visual inspection requirement – to ensure that such inspection occurs when conditions on the vessel have changed in a way that might implicate vessel discharges.

Accordingly, the "general" interpretation in the first paragraph of the answer, which addresses vessels used in carrying cargo or passengers, takes into account the movement of cargo or passengers onto or off the vessel in defining "voyage." Such an approach ensures that an inspection occurs after a vessel departs following loading or unloading cargo or passengers, as those operations can result in, for example, spillage of cargo material or discarding of rubbish on deck or discharge into the water. For vessels that do not engage in such activities, we necessarily looked to other logical beginning and endpoints to use in defining "voyage," as set out in the second and third paragraph of the answer above. While we generally interpret "voyage" as described above, there are certain classes of vessels where such a definition does not work and, therefore, EPA interprets the terms differently for such vessels as set out in the following paragraph.

Vessels that shift in and out of use as a means of transportation (such as mobile drilling rigs) are operating in a capacity as a means of transportation when moving between sites, and therefore are covered by the VGP during that period, but not when operating in their industrial capacity as a drilling rig (see, VGP Fact Sheet section 3.5.2.1 for further discussion). The transition from industrial mode to transportation mode is a change in operation that may affect the nature and characteristics of discharges such that a visual inspection is prudent. Thus, for such vessels we interpret "voyage" in paragraph 2 of the answer above in terms of departure from one site and arrival at a new site to commence non-transportation activities. Harbor tugs, which operate within harbor confines and also do not carry cargo or passengers, are addressed in paragraph 3 of the answer above, which uses the instance of a new crew or master taking over operation of the vessel to determine when a "voyage" begins and ends. This change was chosen as a trigger because, in addition to being a readily identifiable discrete event, it also will result in a visual inspection being performed by incoming sets of crew, thereby ensuring that they become familiar with conditions on the vessel that may implicate vessel discharges.

Lastly, we note the interpretation of "voyage" given in the answer above does not in any way serve to relieve permittees of the VGP’s minimum requirement that visual inspection be conducted at least once per week. See, VGP Section 4.1.1 (stating visual inspections must be conducted at least once per week or per voyage, whichever is more frequent).

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What is the definition of phosphate free cleaners and detergents for purposes of the VGP?

Phosphate free soaps, cleaners, and detergents, are defined in Part 7 of the Permit. Phosphate free is defined as materials which contain, by weight, 0.5% or less of phosphates or derivatives of phosphates.

Discussion

"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.

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What is the definition of biodegradable for purposes of the VGP?

Biodegradation is the process whereby organic matter is used by microorganisms, present in the environment, as a food source. Ultimate biodegradation is the level of degradation achieved when an organic compound is totally utilized by aerobic microorganisms. This results in the production of carbon dioxide, water, mineral salts, and biomass.

Regarding cleaning products, for purposes of the VGP, EPA considers testing that demonstrates either the removal of 70 percent of dissolved organic carbon, production of 60 percent of the theoretical carbon dioxide, or consumption of 60 percent of the theoretical oxygen demand within 28 days to indicate the cleaning product is biodegradable. Acceptable test methods include: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Test Guidelines 301 A-F, 306, and 310, and International Organization for Standardization 14593:1999.

For the purposes of the VGP, EPA considers biocidal substances that yield 60 percent of theoretical maximum carbon dioxide and demonstrate a removal of 70 percent of dissolved organic carbon within 28 days as described in EPA 712-C-98-075 (OPPTS 835.3100 Aerobic Aquatic Biodegradation) to be biodegradable.

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Can a vessel receive a waiver from permit limitations or requirements of the VGP, for instance, if the vessel is an older vessel?

No, waivers are not available for permit limitations or requirements of the VGP.

Discussion

General permits such as the VGP are a set of limitations and requirements issued to control a category or categories of discharges. As such, permittee-specific waivers are not generally available from general permit limitations or requirements.

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Is a tanker 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.

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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.

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Are training vessels eligible for coverage under the VGP?

Training vessels that are non-recreational vessels and are greater than 79 feet in length or have ballast water discharges are eligible to obtain the required NPDES permit coverage under the VGP.

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Are emergency vessels (e.g., fire boats, police boats) eligible for coverage under the VGP?

Yes, emergency vessels that are greater than 79 feet in length or have ballast water discharges are eligible for coverage under the VGP.

Discussion

Permit requirements apply to discharges incidental to the normal operation of emergency vessels. In addition, for these vessels, the VGP in Part 5.7 authorizes the discharge of waste streams in conjunction with training, testing and maintenance operations of emergency vessels, provided that they comply with all additional requirements of the Clean Water Act (Section 311) and the National Contingency Plan (40 CFR Part 300).

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How will a vessel know that it is within the 3 nautical miles zone covered by the permit?

Operators of vessels located in the territorial seas should utilize appropriate navigational aids and maps to locate both the outer boundary of the territorial seas and the vessel's relative location. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) charts are a useful source for this information.

For more information see:

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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 2.2.3.11 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.

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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 exchange and flushing requirements contained in VGP Parts 2.2.3.6 and 2.2.3.8, 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 coast wise trade.

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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 2.2.3.7 (ocean going voyages) and Part 2.2.3.8 (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.

Discussion

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 submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard where required under Coast Guard regulations.

See Section 4.3 of the VGP for more information.

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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.

Discussion

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 reports.

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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.

Discussion

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 nonbiocidal 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. Biocidal-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).

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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 VGP § 7. 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

Discussion

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 C.F.R. Part 110, which uses, in part, a "sheen" test for that purpose. 40 C.F.R. 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 C.F.R. 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 VGP § 7 consistent with methods used under the effluent guideline program for determining the presence of free oil. 40 C.F.R. 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 § 4.3.1.4.

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From where should graywater be sampled?

For those vessels which must sample graywater (e.g., Cruise Ships), graywater samples needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the treatment system must be representative of the treated effluent to be discharged, and must therefore be collected after treatment and prior to the discharge into waters of the US. This sampling point could be from a sampling port in the vessel piping or, if feasible, from a discharge port located above the waterline.

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Does analytical monitoring of graywater required for cruise ships in Parts 5.1. and 5.2 of the VGP need to be done by an approved lab?

For purposes of this permit, analytical monitoring of graywater does not need to be conducted by an approved lab.

Discussion

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. The analytical monitoring must be done for each of the constituents (biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), fecal coliform, suspended solids, pH, and total residual chlorine), in accordance with methods specified in 40 CFR Part 136.

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Where can I find a list of Frequently Asked Questions for the Vessel One Time Report System?

The following is a list of Frequently Asked Questions for the Vessel One Time Report System.

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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 draft Vessel General Permit would replace the current 2008 Vessel General Permit, which expires in December 2013. The 2013 draft VGP would continue to regulate 26 specific discharge categories that were contained in the 2008 VGP, and for the first time, would authorize the discharge of fish hold effluent (which was previously exempt by P.L. 111-215).

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What changes are in the 2013 draft VGP?

For the first time, the draft VGP contains numeric ballast water discharge limits for most vessels. The draft VGP also contains more stringent effluent limits for oil to sea interfaces and exhaust gas scrubber washwater, which would 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 form.

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What is the draft Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP)?

The draft sVGP, if finalized, would authorize discharges incidental to the normal operation of non-military and non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet in length and commercial fishing vessels. Recognizing that small commercial vessels are substantially different in how they operate than their larger counterparts, the draft Small Vessel General Permit is shorter and simpler. The draft 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.

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Why is EPA proposing a draft sVGP?

Currently, a Congressional moratorium (initiated by Public Law 110-299 and subsequently extended by Public Law 111-215) exempts all incidental discharges, with the exception of ballast water, from commercial fishing vessels and non-recreational, non-military vessels less than 79 feet in length from having to obtain a Clean Water Act permit until December 18, 2013. The Small Vessel General Permit would provide permit coverage for these entities after that date.

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Last updated on January 24, 2013 1:31 PM
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