VGP compliance – enforcement rises

Enforcement of Vessel General Permits (VGP) in the US is growing and should be fully understood.
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By Kate Kelly
Compliance Director, Witt O’Brien’s

While a change in how a vessel’s incidental discharges are regulated in the US is coming, the current 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP) remains in effect. Significant increases in enforcement of the permit highlights the importance of understanding the VGP applicability for your fleet.

In 2018, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) established a new framework for the regulation of incidental discharges from vessels operating in the US. At the time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) were given two years each to propose and finalise new regulations that would replace the current 2013 VGP.

As of today, EPA has only completed the first steps in the rulemaking process with a proposal issued in October 2020, and implementation of these new regulations is still several years away. The passage of VIDA led many to believe the 2013 VGP could take a backseat while the new regulations were being developed. However, we are now entering the ninth year of coverage under the permit, and all existing requirements remain in effect for the foreseeable future.

A recent uptick in enforcement of the VGP should further put the industry on notice that these requirements are still in effect and should be adhered to when operating in the US. This includes requirements for analytical monitoring that come into effect as companies are installing and utilising ballast water treatment systems and exhaust gas scrubbers.

More specifically, EPA has been taking a very close look at the electronic notices of intent (eNOIs), Annual Reports, and Ballast Water Management Reports to identify inconsistencies or missing information. We are aware of several ongoing investigations that allege non-compliance dating back five years and cover a wide range of issues from failure to conduct analytical monitoring to missing routine visual inspections. These cases have involved a detailed investigation of discharge, sampling, and inspection records for vessels operating throughout the US and have the potential to result in significant monetary penalties.

It is more imperative than ever to ensure your crew understand the VGP requirements that apply to your fleets, all inspections are being carried out for those vessels in your fleet routinely operating in VGP waters, and all required monitoring is being completed and submitted as part of your Annual Reports.

While the implementation of VIDA will eventually replace the 2013 VGP, it is likely that many of the current requirements will transfer to the new regulations. So, investing in training now to ensure your team understands and properly implements the current requirements will continue to pay dividends now as well as in the future.

If you have any questions on the 2013 VGP requirements or available training, please contact us at


Kate provides technical support to vessel owners and operators on regulatory implementation issues such as the Vessel General Permit (VGP), ballast water management, OPA-90 and other US Coast Guard regulations.

Before joining Witt O’Brien’s, Kate was a regulator with the EPA and worked on the development of the VGP.

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