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Meeting Regulatory Requirements for Response - Part 2

From the desk of Captain Jeffrey Monroe, MM, AMPE

Under OPA 90 and regulations as contained in 33 CFR Part 155, vessels and ports need to address the requirements for Salvage and Marine Firefighting Requirements (SMFF). The regulations were first proposed in the 1990’s under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and were eventually promulgated in 2008, with implementation phased in through 2015. The regulations are quite specific and rely on readiness capabilities in each port district.

To be compliant, a SMFF response plan must “ensure” by “contract or other approved means” the availability of private, “capable” response equipment and personnel anytime a Vessel Response Plan (VRP) is activated. “Capability” includes the ability and intent to meet the timeframes established by regulations. In 2017, an independent study was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the Coast Guard’s SMFF regulations with a particular focus on the marine firefighting aspects. The purpose of the study was to review, assess and document the current state of SMFF response readiness and draw conclusions based on that review. The Panel’s primary conclusion is that “neither the intent, nor the regulatory mandates of the SMFF regulations are fully being met due to the lack of an effective verification methodology.” The integration highlighted in the report highlighted federal, state, and local port agencies; responders and responder resource providers; and vessel owners and operators.

According to the study “Both OPA ‘90 and the SMFF regulations are clear in their mandates to vessel owners and operators” (also called “planholders”). The SMFF regulations set out response timeframes for which a vessel owner or operator holding a Coast Guard-approved plan must deliver response resources to the scene. The timeframes vary based on distance from the port: there are shorter timeframes for in-port or nearshore responses, and longer timeframes for offshore responses. It is the legal responsibility of the vessel owner or operator to develop a VRP for every Captain of the Port (COTP) zone that their vessel may call on. Before entry into a U.S. port, the vessel owner or operator must submit a vessel response plan and receive approval from Coast Guard Headquarters for each COTP zone in which the vessel may be calling. Failure to do so can result in denial of the vessel’s entry to U.S. waters, civil penalties, or other enforcement actions.”

While there are often a wide variety of resources available to call upon in case of an emergency within a port area or at a terminal, offshore response can be a very different circumstance. Larger ports tend to have vessels with offshore capabilities, but again many smaller ports do not. Why is this important to ports? Besides the obvious issues of safety and environmental protection, a near offshore incident can impact traffic going to or from a port or even in an extreme case close a port due to the nature of an incident. In addition, an incident on a vessel will impact the confidence of the public in the safe handling of commerce in a port.

Like local emergency response, port agencies are in a position to work with the US Coast Guard, local, and state agencies, as well as public and private responders to develop an effective way to address port and offshore emergencies. As port volumes and business sectors adapt to changing market conditions, so can the availability of equipment and resources to address incidents. Everyone who does business in the port, or drives business in the port, should be aware and explore if your port is ready. A copy of the final SMFF Report is available by contacting Capt. Jeff Monroe at

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