Clean Up Your Act

24 July 2008 By Peter Baker

Remember the NTVRP? It’s back!

Back in 2005, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) panicked us all by mandating that vessels over 400 tons, when in U.S. waters, must have a Non-Tank Vessel Response Plan (NTVRP).

This rule, based on politically generated legislation, resulted from the Exxon Valdez spill (Oil Pollution Act of 1990). Most yachts had their draft plans prepared and received necessary USCG acknowledgement. Unfortunately, the USCG never declared the final format for the plans and later announced that they were no longer interested in enforcing this rule. Everyone relaxed and the subject was forgotten...until now.

Last November a South Korean cargo ship named Cosco Busan struck the Bay Bridge in California, spilling 58,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into the San Francisco Bay. The USCG was strongly criticized for their poor response to the spill. More than 12 hours passed before the damaging oil slicks were properly reported and even longer for clean-up efforts to commence. As a direct result of this embarrassment, the NTVRP rule is back, effective August 22, 2008.

Reports say that vessels will be screened prior to entering U.S. waters using 90-hour Notice of Arrival (NOA) information and computer data. The focus will be on vessels 1600 tons and above, although by law it still applies to all vessels 400 tons and larger. However, vessels under 1600 tons, especially yachts, pose less of a hazard. Yachts have never caused major spills due to their small size and the light grade fuel oils carried, which generally disperse through evaporation.

How the rules are interpreted depends very much on the individual inspecting officer or the district of the port. The best advice is to play safe and at least start the process of getting an NTVRP well before returning to the U.S. in the fall, especially if you intend to visit several U.S. ports.

The NTVRP is similar to, but more complex (and even more useless) than the SOPEP. In real life, any spill is immediately reported to the USCG and from that point on, all the clean up work is controlled and arranged by professionals. All the yacht has to do is pay the enormous bill for the armies of well outfitted, but rarely used response teams and their equipment. The Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR) is proof that your yacht has substantial insurance cover for oil spills.

As well as having the document, the NTVRP requires crew to have some training and conduct drills. A shore-based “Qualified Individual” must be appointed to act as the communication point and hold written contracts with an oil spill response and a salvage organization.

There are a few companies that offer to produce plans for all types of ships. Once you provide them with the very detailed vessel information, they will prepare and submit the plan in order to get the vital USCG approval.

Peter Baker is the president of Megayacht Technical Services (MTS). The Fort Lauderdale-based company provides all types of regulatory documentation and management. His worldwide team supports captains and crew with the answers to all aspects of vessel operation.

Suggested contacts:
ECM Maritime Service +1 203 761 6030
The O’Brien’s Group +1 714 577 2100
Megayacht Technical Services +1 954 761 7934