Vessel General Permit (EALs)
Did you know…?
- All vessels entering US waters must use Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs) in all oil-to-sea interfaces.
- Lubricant use must be reported in the VGP annual report.
- Lubricants bearing the Eco-Label logo are fully VGP compliant.
- The US Coast Guard will report all non-conformances to the EPA.
- The usage of Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants are enforced by law.
- Punishments for breaches of the VGP can include significant fines and imprisonment.
What is the 2013 VGP?
The Vessel General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of Vessels (VGP) is a US licence which works alongside the Clean Water Act. It serves to protect the US Coastline and inland waters by regulating discharge from vessels entering these areas.
The first VGP was issued in December 2008; however as of December 19th 2013, a second more demanding version has become effective. It is important that all vessel operators are familiar with this document as the consequences of failing to follow the regulations are fines and imprisonment. One of the most significant updates between the two versions of the VGP was the requirement of vessel operators to use Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs) in all oil-to-sea interfaces.
Who does the VGP apply to?
Vessels which are subject to the requirements of the VGP and therefore are required to use Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants are:
• All commercial vessels which are 79 feet (24.08 metres) or greater in length
• Vessels operating in a capacity as a means of transportation.
• Vessels that have discharges incidental to their normal operations.
• Vessels which enter within three nautical miles of US coastlines and inland waters.
Vessel types which could match the criteria:
Commercial fishing vessels, cruise ships, ferries, barges, mobile offshore drilling units, oil tankers, petroleum tankers, bulk carriers, cargo ships, container ships, other cargo freighters, refrigerant ships, research vessels, emergency response vessels, ROV Contract Vessels.
Vessel types which are not subject to the VGP requirements:
Recreational vessels and Armed Forces vessels.
Certain states in the USA have additional / modified regulations, it is advisable to check States’ Certifications in order to ensure your compliance, however they do not generally effect lubrication.
What is the impact of the VGP on Lubricant Usage?
Effective 19th December 2013, all vessels which are subject to the requirements of the VGP are required to use Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants in all oil-to-sea interfaces, including:
- Wire Ropes
- ROV Umbilicals
- Mechanical Equipment Subject to Immersion
- Controllable Pitch Propellers
- Thruster Hydraulic Fluids
- Paddle Wheel Propulsions
- Stern Tubes
- Thruster Bearings
- Rudder Bearings
- Azimuth Thrusters
- Propulsion Pods
When must the switch to EALs be completed?
All vessels must switch to EALs for all oil-to-sea interfaces during their next dry dock.
How is compliance checked and enforced?
Prior to February 2011, the roll of the US Coast Guard (USCG) was primarily educational. However a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), which facilitates the USCG in reporting VGP non-conformances to the EPA.
- The USCG will check for compliance with the VGP during routine inspections of US-flagged vessels and during Port State Control exams of non-US vessels.
- Evidence of non-compliance may lead to more detailed examinations.
- Detected deficiencies will be reported to the EPA for enforcement.
- The EPA is directly responsible for legal action, which may include administrative orders, administrative penalties or judicial action.
- First-time violations may lead to $10,000 fines (per violation) or imprisonment for up to two years.
- Further violations may lead to $20,000 fines (per violation) or imprisonment for up to four years.
- Falsification of documentation can lead to more severe punishments.
- Please review section “1.4 Permit Compliance” of the VGP for more details.
EALs – Required Documentation
In order to comply with the VGP, a number of documents must be completed, many of which make reference to lubricants, these include:
- The Notice of Intent (NoI) – Section D refers to Discharge. If lubricants are used on your vessel in oil-to-sea interfaces, it must be marked in this section.
- VGP Annual Report –Question 5 refers directly to Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants and requests information on lubricants used.
- If EALs have not been used, an explanation is required.
- Under certain circumstances, a non-conformance can be excused for certain reasons. This might be that it is technically infeasible or that the vessel has not dry docked since 19th December 2013.
How do you prove that you are using an Environmentally Acceptable Lubricant?
It is the responsibility of the lubricant manufacturer to ensure that VGP compliant lubricants meet the definition of an Environmentally Acceptable Lubricant. An EAL must meet stringent biodegradability, eco-toxicity and bioaccumulation standards. A lubricant manufacturer’s statement of “meets the requirements of the VGP” is not sufficient evidence that the lubricant meets the strict definition of an EAL. If this is the case, operators are urged to seek further clarification to ensure full compliance.
The testing required to prove that that a lubricant is Environmentally Acceptable is rigorous and expensive. For that reason, a lubricant which is fully compliant with the guidelines will be clearly marked as being VGP compliant.
- Independent test data for the EAL will be available from the manufacturer, ensure that this includes test data on the components too.
- Technical and Safety Data Sheets are likely to carry a statement which clearly states that the product is VGP and EAL compliant.
- It is likely to state on the product label that the lubricant is VGP and EAL compliant.
- The VGP states that a number of labelling programs are acceptable in determining whether or not a product is an EAL. The standards include European Eco-Label, Nordic Swan, Swedish Standards, Design for the Environment and Blue Angel.
Using a lubricant with all or most of the information provided above should be adequate evidence for inspecting authorities, ensuring that they will be happy with your compliance to the VGP’s EAL requirements.