Operational Excellence through Leadership and Compliance

Maritime Compliance Report

Welcome. Staying in compliance takes dedication, diligence and strong leadership skills to stay on top of all the requirements which seem to keep coming at a rapid pace. With this blog I hope to provide visitors with content that will help them in their daily work of staying in compliance. I hope you find it a resource worthy of your time and I look forward to your feedback, questions, comments and concerns. Thanks for stopping by. To avoid missing critical updates, don’t forget to sign up by clicking the white envelope in the blue toolbar below.

No sVGP For Three More Years

 The sVGP is once again on the back burner. The moratorium on vessels less than 79 feet has been extended. According to Sen Vitter's officer, a compromise was reached while working on a larger bill regarding vessel discharge requirements. The language was inserted into the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 (S.2444), which extends the expiration date of the moratorium for vessels less than 79 feet from December 18, 2014 to December 18, 2017. That bill was signed into law by the President on December 18. Under the moratorium, NPDES permits are not required for discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial fishing vessels and other non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet, except for ballast water. I have verified this with the folks at EPA Headquarters and they have asked that I spread the word. Merry Christmas.

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Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP)

 There is currently a moratorium against permitting incidental discharges on vessels less than 79 feet. Translation – the current vessel general permit does not apply to vessels less than 79 feet. However, the current moratorium expires on December 18, 2014. According to the website govtrack.us, on November 19, 2014, Sen Marco Rubio introduced a bill to extend the moratorium, Public Law 110-299. The website gives the bill only a 7% chance of being enacted.

If the moratorium is not extended, on December 19, 2014 the Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP) will go into effect. Non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet will have to comply with the provisions of the sVGP beginning on that date. Here are some of the highlights. Vessel owner/operators will have to: read the permit, sign and carry a copy of the Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form on each vessel, comply with the best management practices for specific discharges, conduct inspections of certain items "frequently, daily, or quarterly," as required by the permit. They will have to keep track of all instances of non-compliance and submit them in a noncompliance report to the EPA each year prior to February 28. All this, of course, under the penalty of severe fines and/or imprisonment. All sVGP records must be kept for three years. The Coast Guard is charged with evaluating VGP compliance during vessel inspections. With Subchapter M's expected Final Rule date set for March of 2015, prudent vessel operators will recognize the potential threat and ensure full compliance beginning on December 19, 2014.
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EPA Vessel General Permit 2013

vgp The 2008 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (2013 VGP) expires on December 19, 2013. On the same day the new EPA VGP 2013 will go into effect. The following is a summary of most of the issues vessel operators might be concerned with. However, this summary will not be comprehensive, and vessel operators should refer to the permit itself to ensure compliance.

The new 2013 EPA VGP applies to non-recreational vessels 79 feet or greater, just as the previous 2008 permit did. In order to receive coverage under the new EPA VGP vessels 300 tons or greater, or with the capacity of 8 cubic meters of ballast water, must submit a Notice of Intent. This is the same requirement that was included in the 2008 permit, but now it must be done through the EPA's eNOI system.  Many vessels which were not required to, submitted a Notice of Intent for the 2008 permit. According to the EPA website, "It is important to understand that operators must submit an NOI for coverage under the 2013 VGP even if they had submitted an NOI for coverage under the 2008 VGP."

There is a moratorium from the requirement to obtain coverage for vessels less than 79ft which will remain in place until December 18, 2014. At which time, if the moratorium expires, the EPA will release the final sVGP for vessel less than 79ft. However, the draft sVGP can be viewed now on the EPA VGP website.

Unlike the 2008 VGP, the 2013 VGP requires vessels which are not required to submit an NOI (79 feet or greater but less than 300 gross tons and ballast water capacity of less than 8 cubic meters) to complete and carry on board at all times a Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form.

It would be useful for vessel operators to conduct a one-time assessment of the applicable discharges for each vessel and document which best management practices, outlined in the permit, will be adopted. The best management practices are better defined in the 2013 permit. For example, where previously it was implied, the 2013 permit says, "Before deck washdowns occur, you must broom clean exposed decks or use comparable management measures and remove all existing debris."

The weekly inspection is more comprehensive than simply making sure there is no debris on deck, and those processes should be reevaluated. Also, there is now requirement for all crewmembers involved to be trained, and for the training to be recorded.

An annual report is now required, where the previous permit only required a report of non-compliance. The first annual report under the new permit will be due on February 28, 2015, and every February 28th thereafter.

Those are just the highlights. Don't allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security by the lack of enforcement. One thing hasn't changed; the penalties include six months in jail for each instance of pencil whipping.
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Workboat Show 2013 Wrap up

 The Workboat Show this year was a little warmer than most, as it is usually held in December, but the "Subchapter M" buzz has certainly cooled off since last year's show. As the years go by, with no word of when the final rule may come, many have become desensitized.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the topic, we did fill the room for our conference session on Subchapter M. The panelist, including myself, shared our ideas on the need and methodology for training, compliance management, and preparation for the impending regulations. The session was well received and ended with spirited round of questions and answers that could have gone on for at least another thirty minutes.

As expected, a few people came by our booth to ask when we would see something on Subchapter M. If I had answered them, it would have been pure speculation. But surprisingly, no one asked about the new EPA VGP. We barely had a chance to show our 2013 VGP compliance management system.

The new permit (2013 VGP) goes into effect on December 19, 2013. There are some significant changes all operators of vessels subject to the permit should be aware of. For example, operators should know: what a PARI form is, what is now required annually which wasn't required previously, a weekly inspection is much more than walking around the boat, why your boats should carry a broom, what is an EUP inspection, and why is the date February 28, 2015 significant. If you are confused by any, or all, of these items now is the time to get up to speed. The 2013 VGP can be accessed on the EPA website.

So, while we wait for Subchapter M, don't forget about the VGP. One thing that hasn't changed is the severe penalties for noncompliance.
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When should a checklist be required?

Have you ever wondered why a watch relief checklist is common in the industry, but a bridge transit procedure checklist is not? I'm not sure the reason is given much thought. Consultants seem to think lots of forms make their manuals more professional, managers like the idea of having everything documented, and mariners feel they are the victims of a useless paperwork onslaught. A mariner, who was sick of all the foolish paperwork he was forced to do, once wrote about making a fake ISM form for how many sugar cubes were used by individuals at the ship's coffee mess. His point was proved when the crew did indeed; fill out the ISM sugar cube usage form.

Some in management feel making employees complete and turn in signed checklists is a good way of covering themselves. However, the value of that is questionable, and it may be counter-productive from a leadership stand point. After all, no one wants to have to complete a checklist just so their boss can cover his ass.

I recently read an excellent book on the topic of checklist usage. I highly recommend it to all individuals involved in the development of management systems and procedures. The book is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right; by Atul Gawande. This book makes a compelling case for the use of the checklists, through case studies in the medical and aviation fields.

When inspections are done, the use of a checklist is a good quality control measure to make sure nothing is missed. An engineer once told me he stopped using the engineering inspection checklist because he could do it from memory. After I had him close his eyes and imagine going down to the engine room and listing all the items he checked, he only listed 14% of the items on the checklist.

Clearly doing a detailed inspection requires a job aid for quality control. It is the operational checklist which is more complicated to determine. The methodology that we use to determine when a checklist is required is based upon risk assessment. A checklist may be required when: the task is done infrequently and therefore the risk of skipping a step is likely; and/ or, the consequence for missing a step is serious.

Why do airline pilots, who take off and land constantly, complete a checklist? Think of the consequence for missing something. When it comes to these decisions, aviation has it easy. In the maritime industry it requires a little more thought to figure out which checklists are required, and which are not. But the paperwork requirements are a little less tough to swallow when the reasoning behind them can be explained logically. Conversely, if a good risk-based argument can't be made for a particular checklist, get rid of it.
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Striving for Excellence - A New Year’s Resolution

Compliance is something that many only think of when forced to. At the Workboat Show many representatives from good companies pass by our booth and say hello, but when asked if they have any compliance questions or issues we can help with, the response is usually, "No thanks we've got all that under control." Perhaps they do, but chances are their issues just haven't risen to the surface yet. Many good companies pass inspections and audits and assume that they are in full compliance. They may be, or they may find out at the next inspection, audit or accident that they were not as compliant as they had assumed. But an excellent company has a proactive compliance management program as part of their regular routine and does not rely upon inspectors' and auditors' interpretations and opinions to determine their level of compliance.

With the coming of a new year, an opportunity arises to take your company from "good" to "excellent" in terms of compliance. If striving for excellence is part of your company culture, here are a few things to consider in the new year:

TWICs are expiring en masse this year. Don't procrastinate in getting those TWICs renewed. Even with the new 30 day grace period, there could be serious repercussions.

The effective anniversary date of the EPA VGP is February 19th. Each year a comprehensive VGP annual inspection is required to be done and any instances of noncompliance with the permit must be reported to the EPA. This annual inspection includes record keeping. For example, if there are not 52 weekly inspections on file, or records of all graywater discharges, or records of any painting and deck maintenance conducted, that may constitute noncompliance with the permit. Be aware that the permit also dictates who is qualified to conduct the annual VGP inspections.

Your uninspected towing vessel examination sticker may expire this year. While you are not required to renew it, if you do, you should be prepared for a much more knowledgeable batch of examiners who may find a number of deficiencies that were not addressed in the first go round. A comprehensive regulatory compliance survey is a good way to prepare for the Coast Guard.

Subchapter M may be published this year. When it is, companies will be scrambling to determine the best path forward. You can get ahead of the curve by discussing the compliance options for each vessel, and by getting captains and crews ready by intensive drills, as well as training on what operating a vessel according to safety management system really means. A thorough internal audit or assessment by an objective third party is a good way to prepare.


Good companies may choose to wait and see if any of what I have addressed rises to the surface this year. Excellent companies will not take that gamble and will leave nothing to chance. Have an excellent and prosperous New Year. 

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New EPA Vessel General Permits

Sorry, it's not going away… The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the new Vessel General Permit (VGP) on November 30, 2011. This is a draft of the permit which will go into effect on December 19, 2013. This draft has been released for public comment, so don't miss the opportunity to provide your input.


I must commend the EPA for providing some constructive clarifications and procedures in this updated version of the permit.

Here are some highlights:

"This permit does not apply to any vessel when it is operating in a capacity other than as a means of transportation."

Vessels less than 300 gross tons that do not have capacity for 8 cubic meters of ballast water, that do not have to submit a notice of intent, but fall under the permit because they are over 79 feet, will now have to complete a Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection "PARI" form and carry it on the vessel at all times.

For each vessel, owner/operators are required to submit an Annual Report by February 28.

All reporting, such as annual reports, must be done electronically, with limited exceptions.

"For cargoes or onboard materials which might wash overboard or dissolve as a result of contact with precipitation or surface water spray, or which may be blown overboard by air currents, you must minimize the amount of time these items are exposed to such conditions."

General training is now required for those who actively take part in the management of incidental discharges.

"Vessel owner/operators must minimize deck washdowns while in port."

"Before deck washdowns occur, you must broom clean exposed decks or use comparable management measures and remove all existing debris."

"Vessels using water from a public water supply (PWS) as ballast must maintain a record of which PWS they received and a receipt, invoice, or other documentation from the PWS indicating that water came form that system."

"Unmanned, unpowered barges such as hopper barges are not required to meet the ballast water management measures of Part"

"Examples of ways to minimize the production of graywater include…restricting the length of showers while in port." Extended Unmanned Period (EUP) Inspections

The EPA has also release the Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP). This sVGP applies to all commercial vessels less than 79 feet. This permit was also released for comment and will also go into effect on December 19, 2013. It will affect commercial fishing vessels, crew boats, utility boats and towboats excluded from the current VGP. The document is much shorter than the large vessel VGP, but contains many of the same requirements and is much more prescriptive.

For those owner/operators subject to the current VGP, don't forget to submit the required one-time reports, which are currently due during the 30-36 month of coverage. 

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Just in from the EPA...

From the EPA...

Dear NPDES vessel program stakeholders,

The one time report electronic system is now available at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/vesselsreporting.cfm


For each vessel, owner/operators are required to submit a one time report between 30 months and 36 months after obtaining permit coverage. EPA is requiring this information to assure permittees are complying with the provisions of the permit, to learn how owner/operators are implementing the permit, and to gain a better understanding about the universe of permittees. The one time report is due February 6, 2012 for those vessels that had coverage on or before September 19, 2009.

We thank everyone for their patience these last few months. EPA delayed releasing the system due to some major glitches in earlier versions of the system. If you identify any other shortcomings or bugs in the system, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We strongly recommend that you review the one time report system tutorial and batch upload template that was attached in an email sent on September 16, 2011.

If you have any questions about the one time report system, please contact the NOI center at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call them at 1-866-352-7755 (8:00 am - 5:00 pm EST).

Thank you,

The Vessel Team
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EPA VGP One-Time Reports Due

At our last professional development workshop on EPA VGP and MARPOL Annex VI there was lots of concern about the EPA VGP one-time report which is currently coming due. My excellent contact at the EPA has provided some very specific and detailed information about the 30-36 month window. Below are his comments on the matter: First, EPA HQ has updated the electronic reporting page FAQ with many answers that address when one time reports are due for different scenarios. The FAQ can be found at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/vesselsreporting.cfm#submit

Additionally, below are the scenarios posed to HQ and the answers received back:

Existing non-NOI vessels: The 30-36 month clock started on the permit effective date: December 19, 2008.

Existing NOI vessels: The 30-36 month clock started on the date permit authorization was granted after the submission of a NOI (can assume Sept. 19, 2009 as the date the NOI grace period ended).

Newly built non-NOI vessels: The 30-36 month clock starts the day sea-trials begin (or the vessel starts discharging waste streams covered by the permit)

Newly built NOI vessels: The 30-36 month clock starts the date permit authorization was granted after the submission of a NOI (normally before sea trials)

Existing non-NOI vessels where ownership was transferred: The 30-36 month clock started on the permit effective date of December 19, 2008.

Existing NOI vessels where ownership was transferred: The 30-36 month clock started on the date of original NOI (vessels first NOI coverage date)

**NOTE: For vessels where the 30-36 month time frame falls after December 19, 2013, a one time report is not required to be submitted. See the last FAQ on the above referenced website 

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USCG to “Evaluate Compliance” of EPA VGP March 11, 2011

Beginning March 11, 2011 during vessel boardings and inspections, the U.S. Coast Guard will begin evaluating compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP).  A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was recently signed between the two agencies, and a USCG policy letter was published, requiring Coast Guard inspectors to use a job aid to evaluate the level of compliance on a particular vessel, document any discrepancies, and pass them along to the EPA.  The EPA retains enforcement authority and will take enforcement action based upon the information gathered by the USCG.

From the vessel operator's standpoint, there are a few aspects of this approach which may be problematic:

Many Coast Guard inspectors may not have received training on the VGP and so their approach and conclusions may vary significantly.  Vessel operators are accustomed to getting 30 days to correct a problem.  With this approach, inspectors are required to document all discrepancies and pass them along to the EPA for action regardless of whether the vessel has corrected the issue "on the spot" or not. Many companies may be trying to manage this VGP from the office.  However, the evaluation of compliance will be conducted on board by asking captains and crews pointed questions.

The only defense is to be in full compliance and have everyone properly trained.

CG Policy Letter:

 http://homeport.uscg.mil/cgi-bin/st/portal/uscg_docs/MyCG/Editorial/20110211/543 Policy ltr 11-01 VGP with enclosure.pdf?id=ee9784ac8e8fecf217d43d6fa6662f42f8c7d2ba 

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EPA VGP Compliance – Do You Have All the Facts?

10Each vessel owner/operator I ask about EPA VGP compliance gives me a different response:  "Oh yeah, I heard about that…We've got it covered we just log how much graywater we discharge and try not to wash any oil over the side…I asked the Coast Guard and they don't know anything about it…Is that for real..?" 

This year I was selected to do a session on EPA VGP compliance at the International WorkBoat Show Professional Series being held in New Orleans from December 1-3.  In preparation for my presentation, I just concluded a meeting in Houston with EPA officials who are responsible for the EPA VGP in EPA Region 6.

Participating in the meeting were the person in charge of VGP enforcement for Region 6, the EPA attorney responsible for VGP issues, and the individual responsible for permitting. The purpose of the meeting was to make sure I had all the facts from the horse's mouth when it comes to my presentation, and to be able to answer the tough questions.  Some clients had also provided me with their nagging questions, and these EPA officials were very forthright in their answers.  I found their willingness to discuss the issues candidly quite refreshing and I am truly grateful for their taking the time to meet with me.

My approach to compliance has always been to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  This comes from my experience both in and out of the Coast Guard, seeing frustrated industry people whose compliance efforts amount to doing what everyone else was doing, or doing whatever the last government inspector said was OK.  This can only result in problems or penalties.  Companies must be in compliance with all aspects of written regulations and policies to ensure compliance, because a new inspector can always show up to enforce what he knows about.  But sometimes when a worst case scenario approach is compared to actual enforcement levels, it can appear to be a "boy who cried wolf" scenario.  That is why I wanted to make my presentation to the EPA officials first, for a reality check.  I wanted to know if my compliance management ideas were "over the top" or not.  Not only did they not think my approach was "over the top" they added many interesting comments.  Here are a few of the highlights:

The EPA VGP is currently being enforced.

Anyone who has knowledge of the requirements of the EPA VGP and deliberately ignores them will be referred to the criminal division.
The EPA VGP was written to be general, but the response in the form of BMPs, etc. must be specific processes tailored to your specific vessel and operation.

The best management practices (BMPs) required are the industry BMPs, not what youthink are BMPs. You could be fined for not following the industry best practices regarding any particular discharge. Follow the permit closely on BMPs and you won't be far off.

Documentation is very important when it comes to enforcement.

Anyone who certifies that inspections and monitoring required by the permit have been done, and it is determined that the inspections and monitoring in fact have not been done, those certifying individuals who signed the log or report will be referred to the criminal division.

I hope these comments make you confident and not worried, but in either case, consider attending the WorkBoat Show Professional Series session to hear the rest of the information and get the answers to your questions.  It should be noted that the comments above are paraphrased and not direct quotes and that the EPA does not endorse me, my company or any of our products. They simply listened and provided factual feedback. See you at the show. 

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